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Sunscreens are a poor second choice, but they're better than nothing, said the Swiss dermatologists who did the study.
The findings take on added urgency for residents of the northern hemisphere, where summer is approaching with its promise of long, lazy days spent at the beach or other outdoor play spots.
"Wearing sun-protective clothes and a hat and reducing sun exposure to a minimum should be preferred to sunscreens," Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager, of the Outpatient Clinic of Dermatology at Triemli Hospital in Zurich, wrote in the May 3 online edition of The Lancet.
But, this advice is felt to be "unacceptable in our global, outdoor society and sunscreens could become the predominant mode of sun protection for various societal reasons, for example healthiness of a tan, relaxation in the sun," the study authors added. "Nevertheless, sunscreens should not be abused in an attempt to increase time in the sun to a maximum."