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trust me; I’m the sunscreen

Remember "Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)"? You can listen/watch on YouTube still. It’s fun to go back and listen again…or for the first time if for some reason you were living under a rock or, like my young siblings, not listening to the radio in 1999. My personal favorites…

Be kind to your knees; you’ll miss them one day.

Do not read beauty magazines; they will only make you feel ugly.

I’ve been thinking about this song lately because I recently embarked on a Caribbean journey so needed to purchase some sunscreen. I sometimes wish I could go back in time when I was blissfully unaware of the public health concerns I am now familiar with, but alas, since I cannot I must push forward and do my due diligence. Just like I posted a while back regarding the USDA and meat oversight, we unfortunately cannot yet trust the FDA to oversee sunscreens. They still do not rate sunscreens by any standards and are controversially allowing companies to jack up the SPFs on their labels despite little to no evidence base demonstrating the high-SPF utility. Fortunately, there is a non-profit called Environmental Working Group that stepped Consumer Reports-style and filled the gap. They put out a bunch of information about which sunscreens are best

Aside from my public health knowledge, having melanoma on both sides of my family has also pushed me to learn more about sun protection. Because summer is here, I thought it was a good time to share a little of what I’ve learned. The most important fact to know is that sunscreen does not prevent skin cancer. It is designed to protect against skin-burning UVB rays, but the cancer-causing UVA protection is unknown at best, and likely nonexistent.  The best way to prevent skin cancer is to stay out of the sun, and if you have to be in the sun, protect your skin with clothing, hats, and shade-producing implements in addition to sunscreen.

Secondly, you need to get skin checks by your primary care physician at least once every five years. I get checked every year both because I’m very moley and because of my family history; typically, once every 5 or so years my doc finds one that looks suspicious and biopsies it. Luckily they’ve all come back negative so far.

The last bit of knowledge I can pass along is that there is no such thing as a safe tan. The closest you can come are the self-tanning creams and sprays on the market, so if you insist on having a deep tan, I suggest you deal with the hassle and mess of those products as opposed to tanning beds.

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