May is skin cancer awareness month. Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager from Triemli Hospital in Switzerland has reviewed the evidence and thinks we should stop trusting sunscreen as the front line of defense against harmful rays.

He and Dr. Susan Chon, from the MD Anderson Cancer Center writing in another article, have recommendations that are summarized here.


  • Don’t wear wet T-shirts.
  • Clothes that shrink after washing are better at blocking UV rays than wet, stretched, or bleached clothing.
  • Buy clothing with built-in UVA blockers to provide extra protection.
  • Many outdoor and sports clothing brands sell lightweight trendy gear with up to 50+ UPF (ultraviolet protection factor).

Wash your clothes

  • Use a specialty detergent that boosts the UPF of your everyday clothes for up to 20 washes.
  • National Public Radio presents opposing views on its value here.

And don’t forget?

  • You can stay in the shade.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Use sunscreen — lots of it applied often.
  • Consider using UVA-containing sunscreen as discussed here.

The bottom line?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sunscreens are important for sun protection. But when used alone they don’t prevent all of the possible harmful effects due to sun exposure.

Borrowing the “Slip, Slop, Slap” slogan from an Australian skin cancer prevention campaign, the American Cancer Society recommends that anyone out in the sun…

  • slip on a shirt,
  • slop on sunscreen, and
  • slap on a hat.

Silly? Not really. The campaign has been associated with lower rates of skin cancer down under. Finally, if you’ve experienced lots of sun burns in the past and are concerned about your skin cancer risk, Dr. Chon says, “many national cancer and medical centers, as well as local hospitals offer free skin cancer screening.”

5/12/07 18:49 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.