Have you ever gotten a painful sunburn or an unwanted suntan, even though you used sunscreen? Or do you have sun spots, wrinkles or a history of skin cancer, even though you never sunbathe?
If you have had any of those skin conditions, you, like most of us, probably believed at least one of the following myths about preventing skin cancer.
Myth: “I’ve spent my entire life indoors, away from windows. I won’t get skin cancer”.
Sun is the most common cause of skin cancer, but skin cancer can develop on its own, separately from sun exposure. This means that skin cancer can develop on parts of the body that have never been exposed to the sun.
Myth: “I have dark skin. People with dark skin don’t get skin cancer”.
People with dark skin do get skin cancer, although much less frequently than people with lighter skin, and not necessarily from sun exposure. Unfortunately, people with dark skin tend to be diagnosed with skin cancer when the cancer is more advanced, making it much more difficult, and not always possible, to treat.
Myth: “I’m just out doing errands in town. No need to bother with sunscreen”.
Any exposure to the UV (ultraviolet) radiation from the sun can damage your skin. Although you might not get an actual sunburn as you run your errands, UV waves are still penetrating through to the deeper layers of skin. That sun exposure may cause skin cancer (and will definitely cause wrinkles) in the future.
Myth: “It’s cloudy. I don’t need sunscreen today”.
Approximately 80% of UV light can penetrate through the clouds. You might not notice a sunburn or tan because the deeper, unseen layers of skin get most of the UV damage.
Myth: “I’m going to be in the mountains where it’s cold – no need to pack sunscreen.”
Actually, UV rays are stronger at higher altitudes. For every 300 meters of increased elevation, the intensity of the UV rays increases by 4-8%. So, pack the sunscreen – and use it, too!
Myth: “I don’t need sunscreen on my face. I’m wearing a hat”
Don’t rely on a baseball cap to protect you. Hats should have a minimum of a 7.5cm brim all around, for protection of your face and ears. Ideally, the hat will also have a flap to protect your neck.
Even with a wide brim, however, your face can get sunburned from the reflection of the sun on water, sand, or concrete. And know that snow is extremely reflective, so don’t be fooled by the cold temperature.
Myth: “I don’t need to wear a hat. I’m sitting under the umbrella”.
Remember, the sun’s rays can be reflected up by the surrounding surface. Also, not all umbrella fabrics provide complete sun protection. If possible, look for an umbrella with an SPF label.
Myth: “I’m completely covered – no way will I get a tan.”
This is probably true – if you are fully covered in a loose-fitting, tightly woven, dark, dry fabric. Unfortunately, cooler fabrics tend to be lighter and less tightly woven, meaning that some sun can get through.
Products are available to make your clothes more protective against the sun. You just add these products to a load of laundry. The clothes will be protective through several washings.
A more expensive alternative is to buy clothing in lightweight fabrics that are specially made to protect your skin from the sun. These are sold in specialty stores and online.
Be aware that wet and/or stretched-out clothing is less protective.
Myth: “Would you hand me my sun-protection shirt? I’m going snorkeling and don’t want my back to burn”.
Like many of us, this person seems to have forgotten about the rest of the body. How many people have you seen at a sporting event with a bright red sunburn on the back of their neck? Or older people with sunspots covering the tops of their hands? Use sunscreen there, too!
Remember your lips. Use a lip balm with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) shown on the label.
Myth: “I know I shouldn’t sunbathe, but it’s fine just this once. I have to look good for the party tonight!”
You might have the very best reason for why you “have to” have a tan. But the tan will still damage your skin.
Myth: “I always wear sunscreen and cover my skin. My tan is from a tanning bed, which is safe”.
Tanning beds are not safe. In fact, the UV radiation you get from a tanning bed is usually as strong or stronger than the UV radiation you would get from the sun itself. Don’t believe tanning center salespeople who say that tanning beds don’t damage your skin.
If you use self-tanning lotion, know that it does not protect your skin from the sun. You must still use sunscreen and follow all the recommendations about sun protection.
Myth: “I brought a tube of sunscreen. We can all share it”.
In order to get the labeled SPF protection from sunscreen, each full-body application should use at least 30mL. Sunscreen must be reapplied every two hours, as well as after going swimming or getting sweaty. This means that a tube can run out quite quickly if used properly.
Sunscreen should be labeled “broad spectrum”, meaning that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Be aware that the SPF rating only applies to UVB rays (the rays that cause sunburn). UVA protection might be significantly less, particularly in high SPF sunscreens.
If you are concerned about absorbing sunscreen through your skin, choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide. Zinc oxide protects against both UVA and UVB rays and is not absorbed through the skin.
Myth: “I’m about to go swimming. I need someone to put sunscreen on my back.”
That’s two myths in one!
First, sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure so that it binds to the skin properly.
Second, unless the sunscreen is labeled “water resistant” it will quickly rinse off in the water. Even sunscreen that is labeled “water resistant” only provides 40 – 80 minutes of protection. You must reapply it immediately after swimming.
Here is one last myth that we explained above, but is worth repeating:
“I’ve always followed all of these precautions. I don’t have to think about my skin”.
This is just a reminder that even if you are careful in the sun, and take all of the recommended precautions, it is still possible to develop skin cancer.
Skin cancer comes in many different forms, and it may not look dangerous, or even noticeable. People with fair skin, numerous moles, or a previous skin cancer have a higher risk of developing skin cancer. If you have any of those risk factors, you should have regular skin examinations by a health care professional.
Everyone, regardless of risk factors, should be aware of the size, color and shape of any moles on their body. Now is a good time to get a mirror and take a thorough look at your skin — even look between your toes! If a mole changes in appearance, or if one bleeds, make an appointment to show it to your doctor as soon as possible.
The good news is that most skin cancers are easily curable if caught early. So, inspect your skin, protect your skin, and safely enjoy some time in the sun!
How Halza Helps
Take health into your own hands with Halza. Store, track & share your medical data on the app. Record important information like your skin biopsy report and upload any relevant photos of your condition. If you have trouble remembering the dates and times of all the doctor’s appointments or your medicine schedule, set reminders on Halza.
Got any news to share? Communicate privately with doctors, family, and friends and update them on your condition. The app is also available in 26 languages, perfect if you’re moving overseas or just going on a short vacation and find yourself in a medical emergency.