Melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers. It’s also one that – while still the least common form of skin cancer – is rising in prevalence around the world. Since the early 1990s, rates of melanoma in the UK have increased among every age group. Rates of non-melanoma have increased too. In the US alone, cases of non-melanoma skin cancers have grown by around 77% over the past two decades.
Exposure to UV radiation is the main cause of the most common forms of skin cancer. And one of the most effective ways to avoid it, of course, is sunscreen.
“Any conversation on sunscreen must start with acknowledging that there is robust evidence that it prevents skin cancer,” says Richard Weller, honorary consultant dermatologist at the University of Edinburgh.
This is why, although skin cancer is rising in some countries, it’s decreasing in others – particularly those that have raised the most awareness around the importance of using sunscreen. “Skin cancer rates are increasing among older generations – they’re carrying damage from decades earlier in their lives, because things have changed now,” says Adele Green, senior scientist of the cancer and population studies group at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia. “Countries where rates are falling have had the biggest investments in communicating awareness, such as New Zealand, Denmark, the US and Australia.”
But some researchers have raised concerns that, despite being an undeniably important tool in our fight against skin cancer, the formulation of sunscreen may need to be improved to contain safer ingredients – and, at worst, some sunscreens could be damaging our health.