Do sunscreens increase risk of melanoma in populations residing at higher latitudes?

Ann Epidemiol. 2007 Dec;17(12):956-63. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2007.06.008.


Background: Sunscreens may allow overexposure to ultraviolet A (UVA) in fair-skinned persons and prevent symptoms of sunburn, but their benefits for the prevention of melanoma are uncertain.

Methods: A PubMed search was performed that identified all known studies of the association of sunscreen use with melanoma risk during 1966-2007. A total of 18 studies were identified, of which 17 met criteria for inclusion in the analysis. Of these, 10 were conducted at latitudes >40 degrees from the equator and 7 at <or=40 degrees . Data were pooled for all latitudes combined and also according to these latitude strata. The association of skin pigmentation and latitude with odds ratios was estimated using linear regression.

Results: Overall, there was no statistically significant effect of use of sunscreens on risk of melanoma (odds ratio 1.2, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 0.9-1.6; p for heterogeneity < 0.0001). However, there was an interaction with latitude. At >40 degrees from the equator, the odds ratio was 1.6 (95% C.I. 1.3-1.9; p for heterogeneity = 0.006), whereas it was 0.7 at <or=40 degrees (95% C.I. 0.4-1.0; p for heterogeneity = 0.0002).

Conclusions: Use of common sunscreen formulations that absorb UVB almost completely, but transmit large quantities of UVA, may contribute to risk of melanoma in populations at latitudes >40 degrees.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / epidemiology*
  • Melanoma / etiology
  • Melanoma / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Skin Pigmentation / drug effects
  • Skin Pigmentation / radiation effects
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Sunscreening Agents / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects


  • Sunscreening Agents