Here comes the sun and along with it an increased risk of this six billion-year-old ball of fire’s UV rays damaging your skin. Each summer dermatologists warn and remind us that being outdoors exposed to sunrays without protecting your skin can result in significant harm to the appearance and health of your body’s largest organ.
With more than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and approximately 87,110 new cases of malignant melanoma skin cancers predicted to be diagnosed in 2017, it’s essential we know how to protect our skin from UV damage. In addition, when we continuously expose our skin without sunscreen applied regularly, it makes us susceptible to premature aging and wrinkling.
It’s time to stop believing the most common sun protection myths and to start practicing sun safety year round:
1. Myth: Sunscreen is not necessary if it’s a cool or cloudy day
Every day, even on cloudy, cool days, sunscreen is an absolute must. This also includes while driving a car or sitting in an office, particularly if next to a window. Up to forty percent of the sun’s UV rays can actually pass through clouds which can explain why some people can develop sunburn on overcast days.
2. Myth: Getting a base tan protects you
It should inspire all of us to believe and embrace a dermatologist’s mantra of “there is no such thing as a safe tan.” When a person tans, this is the body’s response to being injured by UV exposure by producing more melanin, the pigment that gives skin color. It is also a sign that damage has already been done.
3. Myth: I’m already dark so I don’t need to use sunscreen
People with naturally dark skin such as those of Middle Eastern or African ethnicities actually do have somewhat of an advantage when it comes to skin protection because of their skin color. In African Americans, the pigment melanin responsible for their dark skin and eye color does provide a sun protection factor (SPF) of approximately 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin.
But this does not mean they are completely immune to developing skin cancer. A study in 2006 found that dark-skinned people are more likely to die from skin cancer than Caucasians as it tends to be more aggressive and diagnosed at a later stage. Therefore, it is still advisable for them to abide by skin protection rules when outdoors.
4. Myth: My face is the only thing I need to protect when out in the sun
Anywhere the sun can reach is vulnerable to skin damage. This includes all parts of the body exposed but particularly the legs, arms, back, feet, and chest. It’s good to protect the face, but skipping the rest of you makes no sense. This applies not just to skin cancer but also to aging in general. Just look at the back of someone’s hands or their arms – they often are a giveaway to years of unprotected sun exposure. Remember, the sun is our skin’s greatest threat to its health and youthfulness.
5. Myth: Go ahead and use sunscreen from last year
Many people may not know but sunscreen does have an expiration date. Over time, sunscreens break down becoming less effective. Therefore, it is important to buy new sunscreen each year. Keep it stored at room temperature and do not expose it to extreme heat like being kept in a hot car as it can cause the product to break down more easily and quickly.
6. Myth: Using a sunscreen above SPF 15 is a waste of money
Not true. A sunscreen’s efficacy is measured by its sun protection factor or SPF. SPF indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden skin when using a sunscreen, compared to how long skin would take to redden without it. For instance, using a sunscreen of SPF 15 means it will take 15 times longer to redden than without the sunscreen. An SPF 15 will screen 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays; SPF 30 protects against 97 percent; and SPF 50, 98 percent. Also make sure to buy sunscreen with effective UVA and UVB coverage – you may see the phrases “multi spectrum, broad spectrum or UVA/UVB protection” on sunscreen labels indicating they have some UVA protection.
7. Myth: Even if I get some type of skin cancer, it’s not a big deal
It is true many skin cancers, when caught early and removed promptly tend not to be life-threatening. But non-melanoma skin cancer is still cancer and can continue to damage skin by invading other tissue if not removed. Anytime you notice any sort of change in skin anywhere on your body, go see a dermatologist as soon as possible to have it checked to determine the cause. Also, keep in mind, the sooner a non-melanoma skin cancer is removed the less scarring or disfiguring you will have depending on where it is located.
8. Myth: If I use sunscreen, I might become vitamin D deficient
This is a common misconception. Usually most people do not apply sunscreen liberally enough to prevent skin from producing vitamin D. It doesn’t take a long amount of time spent in the sun in order to make this fat-soluble vitamin – generally at least 10 minutes up to 30 minutes depending on the darkness of the skin. Besides, there are much safer ways to get vitamin D than unprotected skin exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays. This includes choosing good food sources of it such as egg yolks, tuna, mackerel, salmon, cheese, foods fortified with it like milk, orange juice, soy milk and cereal, or taking a vitamin D supplement.