Trust pharmacists, not chefs, on sunscreen


melanoma: woman puts sun cream on boy's back in full sun

Pharmacists are in a good position to help educate Australians about health claims such as this week’s assertions by chef Paleo Pete that sunscreens are “poisonous”, says a spokesperson for the Cancer Council.

“The silly thing is people put on normal chemical sunscreen then lay out in the sun for hours on end and think that they are safe because they have covered themselves in poisonous chemicals which is a recipe for disaster as we are witnessing these days,” chef Pete Evans wrote during a Q&A session on Facebook.

“We need to respect the sun but not hide from it either as it is so beneficial for us, but use common sense. The goal is always never to burn yourself.”

National Chair of the Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia Craig Sinclair told the AJP that part of Evans’ message makes sense: Australians should not feel that they can wear sunscreen, stay in direct sunlight for extended periods of time and still be protected from UV radiation.

“Certainly sunscreen is not a shield of steel, and if people rely on sunscreen as their primary form of protection and they spend long periods outdoors without regular reapplication, then they are likely to subject themselves to very high doses of UV,” Sinclair says.

“The really important thing for pharmacists is that they’re not just in the business of selling sunscreen, but providing broader protection advice, which most of them clearly do.”

He told the AJP that pharmacists had played a significant role in reducing the burden of skin cancer.

“Sunscreen needs to be seen as an adjunct to other forms of protection, such as hats and clothing, and many pharmacies sell these as well.”

Sinclair says that some consumers may need help understanding that claims that something is “natural” does not mean it is universally good.

“We need people to rely on trusted sources of advice, and we don’t leave that trusted advice up to chefs,” he told the AJP.

“We need to leave this to people who are trained in providing that advice and are adequately skilled to do so – whether directly through people like pharmacists, or through credible sources on the Internet, like government websites.

“In summer it can take as little as 15 minutes in the middle of the day to burn, whether you’re standing in Hobart or Darwin. That means that we really have to trust the products we’re using.

“It’s incredibly important given the harshness of the UV environment we live in.”

Paleo Pete has since said his comments were taken out of context.

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