If your sun-damaged skin could talk, it would tell you a long story about a lifetime of overexposure to the sun. And some of what it would say might surprise you. Because much of what people believe to be true is actually a misconception. Knowing the difference between sun myth and sun fact is a great first step toward understanding what your skin is trying to tell you.
MYTH: People who only sometimes burn, and never severely, have no reason to worry about sun damage.
FACT: Sun damage is usually caused by chronic sun exposure. Some skin cancers and precancers are just as likely to develop with long-term exposure as they are with a few blistering burns.
MYTH: People who haven't been burned for years and who now take steps to protect themselves don't have to worry about the long-term effects of sun damage.
FACT: From reformed sun addicts to those who have only had a few sunburns, people who have been overexposed to the sun are at risk for serious damage. In fact, more than 5 sunburns during your lifetime may double your risk for skin cancer, regardless of when they occurred.
MYTH: Only people who are chronic sunbathers and those who go to tanning salons are at risk for serious sun damage.
FACT: "Laying out" in the sun is never good for the skin. And tanning beds have been proven to significantly increase a person's risk for skin cancer. But there are still other ways to get sun damage. A person who works outside or exercises outdoors is still exposed to the sun's rays. All that sun damage adds up.
MYTH: People who've never seen a sign of serious sun damage don't need to start worrying now.
FACT: The skin is constantly changing. Exposure to UV radiation from the sun and indoor tanning devices can cause skin cancer at any age, and the risk for developing a precancerous skin condition called AK increases as you get older.
And just because you're getting older doesn't mean you're not experiencing any sun exposure. In fact, studies show that adults over age 40, especially men, have the highest annual exposure to UV radiation.
MYTH: Only people who have fair skin are at risk for sun damage.
FACT: While it's true that some people are more at risk than others, all skin types can be damaged by the sun. And some people who are overexposed to the sun can develop AK, a precancerous condition. Click here to see how sun-susceptible you are.
MYTH: People don't need to protect themselves from sun damage during cloudy days.
FACT: Although it's easier to get burned when the skies are clear, people are still exposed to UV radiation when it's overcast. The sun's UV rays can break through clouds and reach the earth's surface, where they can damage skin.
MYTH: Wearing sunscreen is enough protection from sun damage.
FACT: Applying sunscreen every time you go outside is an excellent first step toward preventing sun damage. But it's not enough. If sun exposure is unavoidable, make sure to seek shade, wear protective clothing, and wear sunscreen labeled "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB" (which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays).
MYTH: Wearing a sunscreen with high SPF protects from every kind of UV ray.
FACT: SPF only measures how much protection your sunscreen offers from UVB, the rays that burn your skin. The sun also produces UVA rays, which age skin and can cause other types of sun damage. Sunscreen should protect from both.
MYTH: Getting a "base tan" from sunless tanning products or using indoor tanning beds provides protection from getting sunburned.
FACT: Sunless tanning products do not protect against UV rays, so no matter how dark they make skin, they do not protect the skin from the sun and people who use these products are still at risk for sun damage.
Tanning beds don't protect from sun damage—they actually increase the risk for skin cancer because they emit UV radiation. The amount of UV radiation a person receives from exposure to tanning beds is comparable to or sometimes higher than what he or she gets from the sun.
MYTH: Sunlight treats seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
FACT: Exposure to UV rays isn't the best way to treat SAD. If you'd like to know more about different treatments for SAD, schedule an appointment with a doctor today.
MYTH: People need sun exposure to avoid vitamin D deficiency.
FACT: Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones. Dermatologists recommend getting vitamin D safely through your diet or supplements. You can find out whether you need more vitamin D by getting a blood test. Don't seek the sun. Anyone concerned about getting enough vitamin D should ask a doctor about their options for obtaining sufficient vitamin D from foods and/or vitamin supplements.