Don’t get burned by these six sun safety myths

Family Health
Aug 31, 2023

With Labor Day approaching, some may see this as the end of summer. But where we live, we know that isn’t the case. In fact, regardless of where you live and what time of year it is, you should always take sun safety into consideration.

“Awareness of your surroundings and limiting exposure is key,” says Dana Coleman, Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion clinical special services manager, oncology nurse navigator and melanographer. “We live in a coastal area so be aware that white or light-colored boat surfaces and sand reflect the sun’s harmful rays.”

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recently conducted a survey, quizzing 1,000 U.S. adults on the basics of skin cancer, tanning and sun protection. The results aren’t good – a staggering one-third flunked the test.

To help close the gap in our skin safety knowledge, let’s take a look at six common misconceptions:

  1. Myth 1: Tanning is harmless as long as you don’t burn.

    Reality: Any change in the color of your skin after exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is actually a sign of injury. What if the UV rays come from a tanning bed instead of the sun? They can still cause lasting skin damage.

  2. Myth 2: Having a “base tan” lowers the risk of getting skin cancer.

    Reality: This is a misconception. A base tan only provides an SPF of about two to four, barely a shadow of protection. If you want the look of a tan without the cancer risk, consider a self-tanner instead. Just remember, that doesn’t keep you safe from the sun.

  3. Myth 3: I have darker skin, so I don’t need sunscreen.

    Reality: While it’s true that darker skin naturally has more melanin, which does provide some protection, it doesn’t make you invincible to harmful UV rays. No matter you complexion, liberally applying sunscreen should be part of your sun-safety routine.

  4. Myth 4: SPF 30 protects your for 30 minutes.

    Reality: If only it was that simple; however, SPF is actually based on the amount – not length – of sun exposure protection you are getting compared to unprotected skin. So the higher the number the more protection you are getting. While SPF 15 sunscreen is the lowest number allowed by the FDA, our St. Joseph’s/Candler skin experts recommend at least a SPF 30, but preferably a SPF 50.

  5. Myth 5: Sunscreens are packed with allergens.

    Reality: Allergic reactions are far and few between. If you have sensitive skin, don’t shy away from sunscreen. Instead, look for labels with physical blockers, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These sunscreens are less likely to cause allergic reactions than chemical ones. Also, try different lotions, creams, gels, ointments, sticks and sprays to find your perfect sun protection.

  6. Myth 6: High SPF sunscreens can be applied less often.

    Reality: Not true. You should reapply any sunscreen every two hours when outdoors or more often if you’re sweating or swimming. Even water-resistant sunscreens only hold up for 40 to 80 minutes in the water. Best practice is to automatically reapply sunscreen each time you get out of the water. Check the product label for specifics.

“Skin cancer can happen to anyone at any age,” Coleman says. “Your risk increases with significant sunburns that blister and peel. It is important to know your family medical history and to also practice basic sun protection and screening methods.”

Related Article: Six tools to protect your skin against harmful UV rays

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