Sun protection is essential to skin cancer prevention – about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. We are all at risk, but how much do we really know about how to protect ourselves from harmful UVA and UVB rays.
Let us help you sort through some common myths and learn the truth about sun protection.
Of the two kinds of ultraviolet light, UVB, which causes sunburn and UVA, which penetrates the skin more deeply and can cause wrinkles, only UVA rays can cause skin cancer.
MYTH: Both UVA and UVB can cause skin cancer. Being out in the sun without proper protection from ultraviolet light exposure increases your risk for sunburn, wrinkles, and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. and 3.5 million cases are diagnosed every year.
TRUTH: If you have a tan or if your skin is naturally dark you may be less likely to burn, but your skin still needs protection from harmful rays.
If you are going on vacation you should tan in a tanning bed before you go to protect you from getting burned.
MYTH: The tan you get from a tanning bed doesn’t protect you. It’s a different kind of tan because it is from high amounts of UVA, which darkens the skin quickly. You will still need to protect your skin from damage while you are on vacation by using (and reapplying) sunscreen whenever you are outdoors.
All sunscreens are alike.
MYTH: Sunscreens differ in the way they protect you and the amount of protection they provide. Look for a product that gives protection from both UVA and UVA rays. While the FDA recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, the American Academy of Dermatology says you should look for a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher that provides broad-spectrum coverage against both UVA and UVB light.
You should check the expiration date of your sunscreen and make sure it has not passed.
TRUTH: Your sunscreen shouldn’t sit for months in your medicine cabinet. Some sunscreens can break down quickly. If you use enough sunscreen, there won’t be any left over from last year. It’s important to note that when sunscreen is overheated in a car it is much more rapidly broken down and will not work as effectively.
“Thanks to more media coverage and better education about sun protection, we see more people buying hats, polarized sun glasses, and protective clothing. Awareness of the dangers of sun damage is making a difference, but there is still so much more we all need to do.” Bob McCain, Owner – Buffalo Peak, Jackson
MYTH: Don’t forget your ears. They are commonly neglected and also a common location for the development of skin cancer. Another trouble spot is the scalp, especially if your hair is thinner than it once was, you may burn where the hair is parted. Wearing a hat is a good way to protect yourself. And what about the feet? If you have ever forgotten to reapply sunscreen to your feet after wading in the surf, you know how miserable burned feet can be.
MYTH: Almost any fabric can provide some protection from the sun’s harmful rays, but tightly woven or closely knitted fabrics provide the most protection. Thin lightweight materials such as silks and bleached cottons or crepe offer the least protection. The color of the fabric can also make a difference. Dark or bright colors, like red or black absorb more UVR than white or pastel shades, stopping the rays before they reach the skin. The more intense the hue, the better the UV defense. For example, a pair of dark blue denim jeans has a UPF of 1700 – meaning they allow just 1/1700th of the sun’s UVR to reach the skin.
TRUTH: Hats are the head’s first line of defense. The Skin Cancer Foundation advises everyone to wear hats with a brim that extends three inches or more all the way around to shade the face, neck, ears, and even the top of the shoulders. While a cap can block UV rays from the top of the head, it does not provide the same level of protection for the neck and ears etc. Reflected rays also can damage your skin, so it is best to wear sunscreen AND a hat.
“It is important for people to wear sunscreen whenever they are exposed to bright sun. Skiers are often at high altitude where the sun is stronger, and because it is cold they may not realize they are damaging their skin or even getting sunburned. Of course, when the sun is strongest, between 10 am and 2 pm in the summer, and when there is bright sun, is the most important time to wear a hat, and sunscreen. There is no ‘safe’ amount of sun, and no such thing as a safe UV induced tan.” Robert T. Brodell, M.D., Dermatologist, professor and Chair of the Department of Dermatology, University of MS Medical Center
MYTH: Some dark “sunglasses” have little UV blocker in the lens and these do not prevent the cataracts that develop from the sun. You should look for sunglasses that come with a tag verifying that they block 99-100 percent of all UV radiation. Also, you should look for glasses that cover the eyes, eyelids, and as much of the surrounding areas as possible. Prescription eyewear, including both sunglasses and ordinary glasses, can be coated for UV protection. Ask your optician to upgrade your glasses.
TRUTH: You can increase UPF value by washing your clothes in a laundry additive like Sun guard’s Rit® into them. The product’s active ingredient, the sunscreen Tinosorb®, increases the clothes’ sun-protective abilities for up to 20 washings. It can increase the UPF of an everyday white cotton t-shirt from 5 to 30.
MYTH: You should reapply sunscreen often when swimming, but it is also important to cover up as much as possible. Wearing swimwear that have a high UPF rating and choosing styles that cover more skin, like a one-piece suit and long trunks, can help protect your skin from harmful rays. And, did you know that wet clothing allows much more UV to penetrate? Wearing a cover-up after you get out of the pool until your suit is dry, serves a double purpose, covering more skin area and preventing more UV rays from penetrating the wet fabric.
“Excessive sun exposure has been linked to diseases affecting nearly every part of the eye, including the eyelids, conjunctiva, cornea, lens, and retina. Therefore, it is critical to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays that may contribute to the development of many vision threatening conditions.” Taylor F. Smith, M.D., Ophthalmologist, Jackson Eye Associates
Source: The Skin Cancer Foundation