The BGs report: Sun cream alone does not provide protection against skin cancer
Used in isolation, sunscreen products do not constitute effective protection against skin cancer. This is the conclusion of a recent study by the BG Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BGIA) in Sankt Augustin, which presents the state of the art. According to the study, sun cream should be only one of several protective measures, and its effectiveness should not be overestimated.
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. Over 130,000 people contract skin cancer in Germany each year. In over 11,000 cases alone, the diagnosis is the most malignant form, malignant melanoma, which claims over 2,000 lives in Germany each year. The number of new cases continues to rise.
Many people are regularly exposed to occupational solar radiation during occupational outdoor activity," explains Dr. Harald Siekmann, a physicist at the BGIA. In order for effective measures to be taken to protect these occupational groups, clarity was sought on whether sun creams could even be considered a suitable form of protection against skin cancer. The results were highly inconsistent. Less threatening forms of skin cancer can to some extent be prevented by sunscreen products. Conversely, the information suggests that they do not protect against malignant melanoma.
Siekmann: "Generally speaking, users have a false sense of security. The sun protection factor of the creams is not a cancer protection factor. It describes the protection against sunburn, not that against skin cancer." Existing damage to the skin, such as sunburn, can favour the development of skin cancer; the chief factor however are the genetic changes caused by solar radiation in the cells which may later cause them to grow uncontrollably.
How well sunscreen products work depends essentially upon how they are used. "This is by no means easy," complains the radiation expert. "Firstly, large quantities are required, specifically 40 g, i.e. approximately a quarter of a bottle of sun cream for protection of the entire body; secondly, the cream must be applied evenly to all skin areas which are exposed to sunlight, which in practice is never achieved." It is also important that the cream be applied early and be re-applied every two hours. "Note, though, that the protective factor and the duration of protection are not increased as a result."
In order to protect the skin and eyes adequately against damage caused by solar radiation during work performed outdoors, OH&S experts therefore recommend a whole package of measures. These range from technical protective measures (e.g. roofing over), through suitable clothing and sunglasses, to sun creams on exposed skin areas. In addition, the individual's skin type should be identified, and the skin monitored for any changes.
The results of the BGIA study and comprehensive background information can be found on the Internet in BGIA Report 03/2006e at www.dguv.de, web code e22346.
Suitability of sunscreen for the prevention of skin cancer