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What's new in skin cancer prevention?

Skin Cancer Awareness Month 2019

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month! This year dermatologist Dr. Emily Ruiz from Brigham and Women’s Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery Center at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital reviews the latest in skin cancer prevention.


You may be asking why sunscreen made the top of the list since it is not a new sun protection remedy. Prior studies have shown that regular sunscreen use reduces melanoma by 50 percent and squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent compared to individuals who used sunscreen at their own discretion. But this year, the United States Food and Drug Administration proposed a new rule that alters regulatory requirements for sunscreen products. As part of the proposal, only two active ingredients in sunscreens, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are generally recognized as safe and effective while two others, PABA and trolamine salicylate, are determined to not be generally recognized as safe and effective. There is insufficient data on 12 other ingredients. Along with other components of the proposal, it also raises the maximum proposed SPF value on labels from 50+ to 60+ and requires sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher to provide broad spectrum protection.


There is a constant debate over whether higher SPF makes a difference beyond a certain level. Well, last May, a randomized controlled trial comparing SPF 100+ to SPF 50+ was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The study found that after an average of six hours of sun exposure, 55 percent of participants had more sunburns on the SPF 50+ protected side and only 5 percent of participants had more sunburns on the SPF 100+ protected side. Based on this study, I have already altered my personal sunscreen use and recommendations to my patients!

Polypodium Leucotomos

This is the second year I am mentioning polypodium leucotomos, which is a tropical fern found in Central and South America. The product has antioxidative immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects and is being marketed as oral sun protection. Although the research remains limited, a study last year showed that the extract increased the tolerable level of ultraviolet B light, which is the more carcinogenic form of ultraviolet light. I am not recommending using this product as a substitution for other sun protective measures, but, for those looking to augment sunscreen and sun protective clothing, this could be a good option!

After a long winter, especially in Boston, we are all excited for the arrival of Spring! But, to maximize enjoyment without increasing your risk of skin cancer, remember to wear your sunscreen (and reapply), get a wide-brimmed hat and wear other sun protective clothing!

To make an appointment with Dr. Emily Ruiz or another dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, call 617-983-7500.

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