Suitability of sunscreen products for the prevention of skin cancer

Project No. BGIA 4118


completed 03/2005


The incidence of skin cancer has been rising for several decades. One of the chief causes is exposure to solar UV radiation. Exposure to solar radiation occurs under favourable climatic and weather conditions during outdoor work and other outdoor activity. A range of protective measures can be taken to prevent exposure of the skin to solar radiation from causing acute and chronic harm. These include the application of sunscreen products to the skin. In recent years, studies have been conducted into whether these products provide adequate protection against the induction of skin cancer. The studies have raised increasing doubts concerning the effectiveness of sunscreen products for this purpose. The objective of the project was to ascertain whether sunscreen products are suitable for the prevention of skin cancer, and to formulate a position of the institutions for statutory accident insurance and prevention (BG) on suitable measures for protection against solar radiation.


An Internet and literature survey was to reveal the current state of scientific knowledge regarding whether sunscreen products are suitable for the prevention of skin cancer. Based upon the results, a proposal was to be formulated for a BG position on the use of sunscreen products and other measures for the prevention of skin cancer.


Whether sunscreen products are a suitable measure for preventing skin cancer has been the subject of heated discussion in the literature. Some sources explicitly recommend the use of sunscreen products for protection against sunburn and skin cancer. These sources do not question these products' suitability for skin cancer prevention. Other sources regard sunscreen products as being of only limited suitability or even as totally unsuitable for the prevention of skin cancer. These sources in turn place constraints upon the suitability of sunscreen products owing to the fact that they do not provide protection against all forms of skin cancer, the protective action is a function of the wavelength of the radiation, the sun protection factor stated for sunscreen products does not relate to protection against skin cancer, and the proper use of sunscreen products presents difficulties, thus frequently leading to a false sense of security. Owing to the discrepancies between the results, existing knowledge yields no clear conclusions with regard to the suitability of sunscreen products for the prevention of skin cancer. A certain efficacy cannot be excluded; sunscreen products do not, however, appear to be universally suitable, particularly in the absence of other protective measures. Owing to the existing uncertainty regarding the efficacy of sunscreen products for the prevention of skin cancer, it appears advisable not to use such agents alone, but to take a range of measures for protection against solar radiation hazards. These include: avoidance of exposure to strong solar radiation; the use of engineered protective measures; the use of personal protective equipment; proper use of sunscreen products; the taking of protective measures both at the workplace and during leisure; familiarity of individuals with their own skin cancer risk; personal prevention measures; and the wearing of suitable sunglasses.

Last Update:

2 May 2016


Financed by:
  • Hauptverband der gewerblichen Berufsgenossenschaften (HVBG)
Research institution(s):
  • Berufsgenossenschaftliches Forschungsinstitut für Arbeitsmedizin (BGFA)

-cross sectoral-

Type of hazard:

radiation, work-related diseases, work-related health hazards


radiation, physical factors, protective measure

Description, key words:

solar radiation, UV radiation, sunscreen, sunscreen products, skin cancer, prevention of skin cancer, prevention