Can Sunscreen Cause Skin Cancer?


Some skin care products contain ingredients that make you more sensitive to sun and increase your skin cancer risk. While sunscreen use is still essential, use caution when applying some products and ingredients.

A few adjustments to your summer skin care routine could help keep you looking younger and healthier, and could also reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

Retinyl Palmitate

A study of the most effective sunscreens released by Consumer Reports in May 2011 warns that some ingredients found in sunscreens have been associated with adverse health effects in animals.

For example, an antioxidant called retinyl palmitate has been linked in animal studies to an increased risk of skin cancers. The ingredient also readily converts to retinoids, which are found in some acne medications and which studies have linked with the risk of birth defects. The report suggested that pregnant women in particular may want to avoid using sunscreen with retinyl palmitate.

Retin-A and Renova (Tretinoin)

These powerhouse exfoliants, derived from Vitamin A, are often prescribed to treat acne and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and other sun damage. Ironically, they also make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

If you get a lot of sun, you may want to avoid using these products altogether. Otherwise, be sure to apply a broad-based sunscreen (at least SPF 15, preferably higher, that protects against both UVA and UVB rays) throughout the day.

Alpha-Hydroxy and Beta-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs and BHAs)

Products containing these ingredients can also increase your sensitivity to the sun. Limit your daytime use or wear a good sunscreen over top of them.

Sunless Tanning Lotions

It’s true that no tan is a safe tan, except the one that comes from a bottle. To avoid streaking, use an exfoliating scrub before you apply sunless tanner. Remember, most self tanners do not offer protection from the sun. Look for one with an SPF of at least 15 or apply a separate sunscreen.

Moisturizers and Sunscreens

If you normally wear a heavy face cream, you may want to switch to a lighter formula on hot, humid days. Even if your makeup (foundation or powder) includes an SPF, you need an additional lotion offering broad-based sun protection.

Need skin care advice?

If you need a referral to a dermatologist or a primary care physician, call 1-800-SCRIPPS 800-727-4777) or visit our doctor finder.