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7 Sun Myths That Put You at Risk

After a long frigid winter, Midwesterners are eager to shed their coats and get outside. While we know that UV exposure from the sun damages the skin and causes skin cancers, many of us hang onto myths that put us at risk. Read on for facts and strategies to stay sun safe all season long. 

Myth 1: I don’t have to worry about sun damage because I have dark skin. 

Fact: One of the biggest misconceptions is that people with darker skin are protected from the risks of excessive sun exposure. People with lighter skin are certainly more prone to problems caused by UV radiation, but all people are susceptible to the risks. 

Myth 2: A suntan makes you look healthier.

Fact: Excessive sun exposure is linked to multiple problems including sunburn, a variety of skin cancers, and photoaging. Many people do not realize photoaging in particular is a problem. Many people assume that wrinkles and other skin changes are mostly related to age, but a major factor in skin changes as we get older is sun exposure. 

Myth 3: I only need sunscreen on days when I’m outside a lot.

Fact: Practicing daily UV safety can provide long-term benefits such as delaying skin aging and helping to prevent multiple types of skin cancers. 

Myth 4: Any sunscreen will do.

Fact: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, broad-spectrum coverage, and with water/sweat resistance. That sunscreen should be used during any outdoor work, sport, or recreational activity. 

  • "Water-resistant" and "very water-resistant" means that the sun protection is maintained after 40 or 80 minutes of activity involving water or sweating. 
  • Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the formation of a protective film on the skin and reapplied every two hours. 
  • Use the “teaspoon rule” when applying sunscreen. That means applying approximately: 
    • 1 teaspoon of sunscreen to the face/neck 
    • 2 teaspoons to the front/back torso
    • 1 teaspoon to each upper extremity
    • 2 teaspoons to each lower extremity (don’t forget your feet)

Myth 5: Sunscreen is the only way to reduce my risk. 

Fact: While using a good sunscreen is vital, other tips that can help keep you safe include wearing protective clothing like sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, keeping track of the UV index and avoiding unnecessary outdoor activities at the highest times of the day – typically around noon and the early afternoon hours. 

Myth 6: Sun is the only way to get a tan. 

Though there have been safety concerns with some products, FDA-approved sunless tanning lotions, sprays, or creams are generally considered safe when used as directed. When buying a self-tanning product, just make sure it is one that is FDA-approved.

Myth 7: I’ll worry about skin cancer when I’m older.

While it’s true the risk of melanoma increases as people age, melanoma is not uncommon even among those younger than 30. It’s one of the most common cancers in young adults and especially young women.

Keep in mind it’s the damage you do to your skin starting at a young age that ultimately leads to skin cancers – and wrinkles – later in life. So take care today for healthier skin in the years ahead. Your future self will thank you. If you have more questions, reach out to your primary care provider.

Jake Schlemmer, MD
Jake Schlemmer, MD

Jake Schlemmer, MD is a Family Medicine provider with CHI Health.

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