Shining a light on sunscreen guidelines

Dermatologists are at odds with some points made by the Environmental Working Group. Here's a look at some of the main issues.

Published: Monday, July 2 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Karen Ravn, Special to the Los Angeles Times

The EWG says regular sunscreen use has been shown to reduce risk for squamous cell cancer (treatable; comprises 16% of skin cancers) but not necessarily for basal cell cancer (treatable; 80%) or melanoma (potentially deadly; 4%). Also, while new federal rules slated to take effect in December allow sunscreen makers to claim that their products lower the risk of skin cancer, they will not allow makers to claim their products do so alone that is, without other protective measures.

Sunscreen users stay out in the sun longer and end up exposed to more UV radiation than non-users. "I think this is because when using sunscreen, people change their behaviors and feel much more invincible," says David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG.

There are two main types of sunscreens: physical (mineral or inorganic) and chemical (organic). Physical screens (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) work by deflecting UV rays, while chemical screens work by absorbing them (instead of your skin doing so).

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