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Debunking Myths About Skin Cancer

Skin is the body's largest organ, and it protects the body in many ways. As the first layer of defence from the outside world, the skin is exposed to harsh elements, intense UV rays and other environmental hazards. Our skin works hard to keep us healthy and alert us to danger. Just as it converts sunlight into vitamin D to give us healthy bones, the skin can alert us to skin cancer by presenting with dark moles or unusual spots.

The ultraviolet light emitted from the sun can cause sunburn, premature aging, wrinkles and, of course, skin cancer. Many Australians are aware of this fact, with the country experiencing some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. However, some believe myths that remove the urgency of a skin check or allow them to palm off sun exposure as ‘no big deal’.

When it comes to protection for your skin, knowledge is power, and we’ve busted some of the most popular myths so you can have confidence that you’re doing right by your skin.

Myth #1 You need exposure to sunlight to produce Vitamin D

Vitamin D is responsible for helping your body to absorb calcium to maintain the strength of your bones throughout your life. Your body produces Vitamin D primarily from the sun’s UV rays; however, the exposure you need for adequate production is very little. Even with very low UV levels, your daily activity is enough to give adequate Vitamin D, from walking to get your morning coffee to hanging out the washing. There is no need to sunbake or hang out in the sun for hours to increase your Vitamin D, especially in most parts of Australia, where UV levels are generally high.

Myth #2 I don’t suntan, so I’m immune to skin cancer

When you think of sun damage, you may conjure images of people lathered in oil baking by the pool for hours on end. This is a rarer sight these days; however, it doesn’t mean that the instance of skin cancer has lessened. Sun damage can happen when we least expect it, such as watching a weekend footy match or even sitting by a sunny window on an average workday. Just as we are exposed to enough sunlight to produce Vitamin D, we are exposed to enough daily to sustain skin damage.

Myth #3 You don’t need sunscreen if you have dark skin

While the physiology of those with darker skin makes them less prone to developing skin cancer, they are not immune. There are six types of skin colour and sensitivity levels based on the Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype. Those with deeply pigmented skin are very resistant to burns; however, the skin's DNA is still at risk of permanent damage from UV rays. This can result in skin cancer, even if you’ve never had a burn.

Myth #4 My skin doesn’t burn, so I don’t need sun protection

We’ve all heard the adage, ‘tanning is skin cells in trauma’, and it’s true. There is no such thing as a safe tan. While an even bronze tan might be a nice souvenir, the damage caused can be lifelong, with permanent damage to the cells caused by exposure to UV radiation. Even if you manage to tan without peeling or developing redness, there is much more damage below the surface.

Myth #5 If the weather is overcast or raining, you can’t get sun damage

This is one that causes sunburn on tourists and locals alike every year. As our skin cannot feel UV radiation, we can get burnt even when it is cool out. You are at risk when the UV rays are at three or above. UV rays can penetrate through the clouds, burning the skin even when the sun is nowhere to be seen. While many think that sunburn is caused by heat, it is caused by radiation which can occur no matter what the weather of the day is.

Myth #6 You only need sunscreen outside

This is potentially one of the biggest myths, and we can’t blame you – sunlight is an outside thing, right? Wrong. Ever stepped off a plane to notice some redness and tightness on your skin? Or noticed your hands are starting to age quicker than the rest of you after years spent baking on the steering wheel? These are just some instances where being indoors hasn’t protected you from the sun. UV rays can penetrate through glass, and if you only apply sunscreen when you’re outside, chances are you have already been exposed to harmful UV radiation.

Myth #7 Solariums are a ‘safe tan’

Solariums aren’t as in vogue as they used to be, but some still believe they are a safer way to tan. However, sunbeds produce much more UV radiation than even the sun, up to 6 times more. Those who use sunbeds before the age of 35 have a 59% increased chance of developing melanoma than those who don’t, and they can cause premature aging. Each session causes more damage, and it may be years before you see the extent of that damage.

Myth #8 Makeup with SPF is enough sun protection

The makeup industry has cottoned on to the anti-aging effects of SPF, and as skin cancer professionals, we’re grateful for any extra SPF our patients are exposed to. However, the SPF in your makeup isn’t enough to provide comprehensive protection. Cosmetic products and moisturisers are not generally made to be relied on as the main line of defence against the sun, and it would take applying much more than you typically would to have enough product for protection. Instead, apply a layer of sunscreen under your makeup and keep a bottle of powdered or spray-on SPF 50+ in your bag for top-ups throughout the day.

Myth #9 Every sunscreen is the same

You’ve done the right thing, picked up the sunscreen that was available in your local store and ticked it off your to-do list. However, not all sunscreen is made equal. Only broad-spectrum sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. An easy way to remember the difference is UVAge and UVBurn. Exposure to both will cause premature aging, burning and an increased risk of skin cancer. Ensure your sunscreen is broad-spectrum and over SPF 30 for complete protection.

Myth #10 Skin cancer is always easy to spot

Self-checking your skin is essential, necessary, and simple; however, it is not foolproof. Some changes to the skin can be very subtle, and parts of the skin that can develop skin cancer can be hard to reach or examine, even with a partner. You should never leave a suspicious spot in hopes it will resolve on its own, as the longer skin cancer develops, the harder it is to treat.

The only guaranteed way to achieve certainty around your skin health is to have a professional skin check at least once a year. Your skin professional can keep track of any skin changes and examine any questionable spots closely to ensure they aren’t a sign of a more significant issue. Skin cancer is highly treatable when caught early. Be certain with Sun Doctors and book your skin check-in today.

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