Sunscreen preventing skin cancer or harming health?  Well now that’s an interesting question…

You may have read recently, My Kitchen Rules host Pete Evans came under fire for some social media commentary suggesting sunscreen wasn’t really needed, even going so far as to claim sunscreen is harmful.

The goal, according to Evans, is to go out in the sun, but “never to burn yourself” – but not using sun protection to keep an ‘all year tan’ is okay.

Ummm, hang on, what? Hmmm! Well, Mr Evans, even vaguely suggesting, even merely hinting people not use sunscreen…in Australia – the country with the second highest rate of deadly skin cancer, melanoma? Well let’s just say there we just have to flat-out disagree. And I might add, it’s not just Dr Green and myself, but I’d say, on balance, the entire medical fraternity.

Just to be clear UVA and UVB rays and human skin just don’t go well together. Certainly not over a lifetime. Now granted, Mr Evans looks like he’s in his 40s. But given time, he may well end up being one of the two out of every three Australians diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.

So are any of the claims he made even partly true? The simple answer is no.

The truth about sunscreen preventing skin cancer

In fact, regular sunscreen usage, as shown by a 2011 Australian study, has proven to reduce risk of the most serious form of skin cancer – melanoma. Sunscreen has long been proven to be an effective method of skin protection, and constant research into the efficiency of sunscreen ensures that over time, the protection it offers will steadily improve.

Evans calls on people to ‘choose wisely’ – however, he is also an advocate of a ‘non-toxic’ sunscreen, named in the article. However, Evan’s chosen product, isn’t registered with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which has to make you wonder how much sun protection it actually affords him. Just in case you didn’t know, the TGA is the rigorous arbiter of all things medically safe for us Aussies.

However, the wisest choice would be for him (and you) to choose a sunscreen that has been examined, tested, and verified as a viable way of protecting skin from harmful UV rays.

 Although Evans didn’t specify which chemicals he was concerned about, the zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreen are, despite the confronting name, perfectly safe. And Evans’ choice is, in fact, also a zinc-based product.

What about Vitamin D?

His last argument was the need for people to go out into the sun to benefit from the vitamin D provided by the sunlight. Although getting the right amount of vitamins is essential to health, the risks associated with anything longer than about 10 minutes a day of sun exposure should be the main consideration.

Between August and April, the Cancer Council reports, it’s imperative to use multiple sun protection methods, even for people with vitamin D deficiencies. Why? The forecast UV index is usually above 3, making it necessary to shield yourself from skin damage.

For the most part, vitamin D deficiency isn’t an issue, as most essential nutrients can be gained through the sun exposure garnered through day-to-day activities. Additionally, the 2014 Australian Health Survey found that only 6% of the Australian public had moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency. And doctors treating those patients would, more often than not, recommend taking supplements, rather than tempting the very real risk of skin cancer by encouraging greater skin exposure.

There are additional methods of getting vitamin D that don’t involve exposure to sunlight, which include getting regular exercise, eating calcium-rich foods such as leafy vegetables, fish, and tofu.

And the all year round tan?

As for the “all-year round tan” comment – sadly, many people harbour the mistaken belief that, as long as they don’t get sunburned, a tan is perfectly safe – and even healthy.

However, that has also proven to be false. As stated by the Better Health Channel Victoria, tanning is a contributor to premature skin ageing and skin cancer, even going so far as to effect damage on DNA. Although a tan may give your skin an apparently healthy glow, it’s actually a sign that irreversible damage has been done to your skin.

The damage is not always immediately apparent. Skin cancer through sun exposure is caused by exposure to UV rays, and the effects of that aren’t necessarily visible, as the radiation is invisible to the naked eye. By and large, any exposure to the sun without protection, despite lack of visible signs of skin damage, can be harmful, even from years prior. Just ask any of our patients who used to sun worship, but have seriously reformed due to a more recent skin cancer diagnosis.

Taking advice from the right people

As a skin cancer doctor, I make for a wonderful celebrity chef. No, actually, I don’t but at least I know which areas I should be giving people advice. Medicine, yes – I am a medical doctor of some two decades. As for cooking, owning restaurants, Paleo diets… when it comes to providing advice on those I should probably stick to my knitting.

And when it comes to suggestions for protecting your skin from skin cancer, Peter Evans should probably stick to his. And in the meantime, please Pete, protect your skin.

If you’ve been a sun-worshipper at any point in your life, you might consider booking a skin cancer check. You can book an appointment by calling us on 9999 0336 (Northern Beaches) or 9223 1608 (Sydney CBD), or by dropping us a note via the form below.

Northern Beaches

Building Q1, Level 2, Suite 9, 4 Daydream St, Warriewood

Appointment availability:
 Monday – Friday
Appointment times: 8.30am-5.00pm
Phone: 02 9999 0336
Fax: 02 9999 0337

Sydney City

L16, 109 Pitt St, Sydney

Appointment availability: Mondays & Thursday Only
Appointment times: 8.30 am - 5:30 pm
Phone: 02 9223 1608