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I would like try to clear up some of the controversy regarding the use of sunscreens.  The key point of using sunscreen is to protect against a potent cancer causing agent, UV light.  There is no legitimate dispute about the fact that UV light from unprotected sun exposure is carcinogenic.  The easiest way to avoid sunlight is to stay indoors.  The second best way is to stay in the shade when outside and to always wear highly sun protective clothing.  However, for obvious reasons these techniques alone are not an adequate answer to the problem of minimizing exposure to UV rays.
Why Wear Sunscreen?
So what can you do to properly protect from the damaging effects of UV light?  Sunscreens are a reasonable although imperfect compromise. They have some limitations but, to the best of my knowledge, use of sunscreen is much better for your skin and health than unprotected UV exposure.  I therefore recommend a broad spectrum, SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.  It is important to find one you like to use because adequate application and reapplication is integral for the success or failure of a sunscreen.
Chemicals in Sunscreen
There is currently much written about fears from different chemicals in sunscreens.  Although this is still an area of active investigation, so far my reading of the controversy about the currently available sunscreens is based on limited, poor quality findings from studies that have not been able to be reproduced when retested.   I still feel comfortable using chemical-containing sunscreens on myself an on my family since some of the most potent sunscreens use chemicals to achieve the highest levels of UV protection.  For those who want to be very cautious and avoid chemicals altogether, there are a number of sunscreens currently available that only use inorganic “physical blockers” to keep UV rays off the skin.  The active ingredients listed in these sunscreens should say only Zinc Oxide and/or Titanium Dioxide.  Although they are more likely to leave a slightly white residue on the skin when applied and possibly have a more limited amount of UV protection, they are reasonable for people who are uncomfortable using chemical-containing sunscreens.
I strongly advise you to find the sunscreen that works for you and use it to keep your skin healthy during this spring and summer.

Jeremy Moss, M.D. Ph.D. Dr. Jeremy Moss, a board certified dermatologist, is an associate professor of dermatology at Yale University and on the active medical staff at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

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