Are kids really being reckless for seeking the sun and shunning sunscreen?

I spied this ‘editorial’ in the Daily Mail this week (we’ll come to why editorial is in quotes in a moment). It’s about a poll that shows, apparently, a significant number of young children are refusing to wear sunscreen. One in three, apparently, will seek to get out in the sun at every available opportunity.

I don’t have access to details of the poll or how it was done, but the tone of the article is that young children often have a reckless attitude to the sun. Here’s a quote from the piece:

These findings are really alarming as they show that children have little regard or knowledge of the dangers of the sun, or the consequences of spending time in the burning sun without protection.

This quote comes from Richard Cryne – Superdrug’s ‘sun care buyer’. And we all know how important it is to take sun exposure advice from a person whose job is to ensure his pharmacy’s shelves are stocked with sun care products.

Numerous times on this site I have written about the broad benefits of sunlight exposure. While increased exposure is associated with an increased risk of certain skin cancers, it’s also associated with a reduced risk of lots of other forms of cancer, as well as protection from other chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis.

Quite a lot of evidence links these benefits to higher levels of vitamin D. Suncreens can block vitamin D production. They’re also quite chemicalised. They also might prevent burning but be used to extend time in the sun and allow increased exposure to potentially harmful rays. For more about this, see my blog post ‘The Dark Side of Sunscreens’. You can read there about some evidence which links sunscreen use with an increased risk of melanoma.

A couple of years back, I featured a BMJ column written by GP (family doctor) Des Spence on the very subject of sun exposure in kids. In this piece, he writes about the importance of vitamin D, as well as how increasing rates of melanoma are probably the result of ‘over-diagnosis’. He even refers to evidence which casts doubt on the idea that melanoma is chiefly caused by sunlight exposure. Here’s an extract from Dr Spence’s original piece:

Melanoma most commonly occurs in areas that are less sun exposed. It is 50% more common in social class one, despite the fact that manual workers are more likely to work outside and use sun beds.

The most conflicting evidence, however, is that despite a reported tripling of incidence, the actual death rate under 65 has remained unchanged. This observation cannot be explained by better treatment, because melanoma remains resistant to chemotherapy.

None of the doubts over the relationship between melanoma and sunlight or the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens make their way into the Daily Mail piece. We do learn, however, that the poll was a joint initiative between Superdrug and the skin cancer charity Skcin. See here for its corporate sponsors. Should you bother clicking on that link, I trust you won’t fall off your chair when you see sunscreen manufacturers there.

You may notice, also, that the author of the piece appears as ‘Daily Mail Reporter’. Why has no writer put their name to this piece? Because, I suspect, no journalist actually wrote it. I think it’s a ‘cut and paste job’. It’s not editorial or even news. It is, I think, just a press release.

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5 Responses to Are kids really being reckless for seeking the sun and shunning sunscreen?

  1. SmartEaters 30 May 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Thanks for this Dr Briffa.

    And of course there is even some evidence that sun screen actually promotes skin cancer: For example:;2-3/abstract;jsessionid=7151440C1B993FD5AA6E86FC45D051B1.d04t04

    For some years now, class action suits have been taken against sun block makers with the plaintiffs being successful (i.e. sun screen peddlers having to pay out damages … )

    The above piece touches on some of the ingredients commonly used which might be carcinogenic (notably retinyl palmitate but there are many others …)

    Thanks again Dr. Briffa.

    Your pieces are always thoughtful and provide a much needed balance to the misinformation that unfortunately typify the great majority of “medical” opinion … Most healthcare journalism is either misinformed (owing to naivete) or deliberately misinforming (result of vested interests) as in this case …

  2. Jo 30 May 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    Dermatologists seem to see every skin blemish as cancer or ‘pre-cancer’. My mum had an abnormal mole removed and was criticised for spending time in the sun. My mum HATES the sun and has always stayed out of it. I have these same blemishes and have spent plenty of time in the sun. They are obviously hereditary, but even so, they still claim they are caused by excess sun. Funny enough I have them on parts of my body that have never seen the sun.

  3. Liz Smith 31 May 2013 at 8:16 am #

    Twelve years ago I was recommended to take blue green algae to help remove the heavy metal toxins in my body from amalgams. After two years of taking it I was in Tahiti – and oddly enough not burnt to a cinder like every other pale skinned European. It caused amusement that I was not suffering. Since then I never bought sunscreen I just increase the daily intake of BGA. – the hotter the sun the more I take up to 6 a day, but return to my 2 daily when out of the sun. I was refused a ticket for a tour in Oz if I did not wear sunscreen, so bought a tube and showed it to the coach driver, panic over. Due to the seasons we are getting here in UK I take Vit D3 but feel this year I need to use my SAD lamp. If the kids have the sense to keep off the sunscreen could be they are smart enough to wear tee shirts if we ever get hot sun again. Oh to see babies with lovely brown arms and legs again.

  4. Brian 31 May 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    Does anyone know of a study linking the increase consumption of polyunsaturated fats (particularly in margarine) to the rise in malignant melanomas in Australia since 1974? I read this in Barry Groves book “Eat Fat get Thin” but with no reference.


  1. To sunscreen or not to sunscreen…. - 3 June 2013

    […] at some point and that, therefore, the sunscreen question will be upon us again, I checked in to a post on Dr John Briffa’s blog last week about sunscreens. He was, in fact, belabouring the Daily Mail (with some reason) for […]

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