7 Sun Protection Myths That Can Give You Cancer

Wednesday, 04 Sep 2013 09:53 AM

By Nick Tate

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Is it OK to avoid sunscreen in winter? Can a dark complexion offer protection from skin cancer? Should you choose a sunblock with a high SPF? Is a white T-shirt the best way to cover up at the beach or pool?

These are just a handful of common questions dermatologists field that suggest widespread myths and misconceptions about sun protection have left many people uncertain about the best ways to protect themselves from skin cancer.
 
The Skin Cancer Foundation notes, for instance, that sun damage can be as severe to snow skiers as beachgoers. Dark-skinned people are not immune to sunburn and skin cancer, health experts say. And new research out of Ohio State University shows a white T-shirt offers surprisingly less protection than sunblock and an SPF 30 sunscreen is only marginally better than one with SPF 15.
 
Editor's Note:Knowing these 5 cancer-causing signs is crucial to remaining cancer-free for life

"It can be confusing, but with a little knowledge, you can enjoy the sun safely," said Shannon Trotter, M.D., a dermatologist and skin cancer expert at the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center who helped conduct the new myth-busting study on sun-protection products.

 
Health experts note skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed annually. It is tied to two types of ultraviolet light: UVB, which causes sunburn, and UVA, which penetrates the skin and can also cause wrinkles.
 
Recent research has identified an alarming rise in melanoma in the U.S., particularly among young people. According to a study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, rates of this deadly form of skin cancer have grown by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men over the past 40 years.
 
With so many sun-protection products and myths in circulation, here's a closer look at seven common misconceptions.
 
Myth No. 1: Higher SPF sunblock is better

Fact: SPF numbers are deceiving and higher levels don't provide significantly greater protection from the sun. SPF — sun protection factor — is a measure of the effectiveness of sunscreen in blocking UVB.  But an SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93 percent of harmful sun rays, while an SPF 30 blocks about 97 percent.
 
"Don't fool yourself when you're buying SPF 50 and above, thinking that you can be out longer and don't need to reapply every two hours," said Dr. Trotter. "Some people mistakenly buy sunscreen with a higher SPF number, and then use less of it thinking they are adequately protected."
 
Myth No. 2: White clothing is more protective than sunscreen.

Fact: Most sunscreens offer better protection from the sun than white clothing, said Dr. Trotter. A white T-shirt, for instance, has an SPF of about 7; if it gets wet the SPF drops to 3, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. If you're going to wear a coverup at the beach, avoid white. "Darker shades, such as red or black, can increase your sun protection because they absorb ultraviolet light," Trotter said.
 
Also worth noting: A beach umbrella isn't a foolproof way to block the sun's rays because sand can also reflect UV radiation.
 
Myth No. 3: You only need sunscreen on sunny days.

Fact: Sunscreen is not just for sun worshippers, but should be used even on cloudy or winter days. Up to 80 percent of the sun's rays can pass through clouds. Snow can reflect 80 percent of UV rays, meaning skiers can often get hit by the same rays twice. This is especially true at higher mountain altitudes, since UV radiation exposure increases 4-5 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level.
 
"It's easy to associate winter with frostbite and windburn, but most people are unaware that UV rays can be every bit as damaging on the slopes as on the beach," said Perry Robins, M.D., president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. "With the winter sports season ahead of us, it's more important than ever to take proper precautions on the slopes."
 
Myth No. 4: Indoor tanning is safer

Fact: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared UV radiation from artificial light sources — tanning beds and sun lamps — a known carcinogen. Research shows radiation from indoor tanning is similar to the sun, and in some cases might be stronger. Yet a recent survey by the American Academy of Dermatology found one-third of Americans falsely believe indoor tanning is safer.

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings study noted indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. Indoor tanners are also 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.
 
Myth No. 5: Dark-skinned people don’t need sun protection.

Fact: If you are naturally dark-skinned, you still need to protect yourself. Individuals with dark complexions are less likely to burn than fair-skinned people, but no one is immune to skin cancer from UV rays.
 
Myth No. 6: A light tan can protect you from UV rays.

Fact: There's no such thing as a safe tan, experts say. A tan, in fact, is a sign of damage to your skin, so getting a tan before going on vacation — from a tanning bed or elsewhere — is a bad idea.

Myth No. 7: Too much sunscreen causes vitamin D deficiency.

Fact: Sunshine does help your body produce vitamin D. But according to the American Cancer Society, kids and adults get plenty of this nutrient through multivitamins, vitamin D-rich foods (like milk and fortified orange juice), and everyday sun exposure. Small amounts of UV rays also still penetrate sunscreen, providing more than enough to produce vitamin D.
 
To protect your skin, experts advise:
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, apply liberally, and reapply every two hours or so.
  • Be sure to cover often-missed spots: lips, ears, around the eyes, neck, chin, scalp, hands, and feet.
  • If possible, limit your time in the sun during when rays are most intense — between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Have any skin discolorations or abnormalities checked by a dermatologist.
Editor's Note:Knowing these 5 cancer-causing signs is crucial to remaining cancer-free for life

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