With one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, Australia has no place for common myths about sun safety.
Fortunately, we're here to help you separate 15 facts from fiction.
Myth #1 - Vitamin D requires sun exposure
We need Vitamin D because it helps our bodies absorb the calcium it needs to maintain and increase the strength of our bones. UV radiation is the best natural source of Vitamin D. The skin converts UV rays to produce Vitamin D, but it needs a lot less sunlight than you would imagine.
Since Australia's UV levels are altogether quite high, your daily routine will give you adequate Vitamin D. Brief sun exposure outside of peak sun hours (9am-4pm) is sufficient for your daily intake. Vitamin D supplements are also a good way to prevent overexposure to damaging UV rays.
Myth #2 - You are immune to skin cancer if you do not suntan
It's true that prolonged sun exposure, like tanning beds, certainly increases your chances of sun damage. Whilst people might not lather up in oil and suntan on the beach as much as they used to, rates of skin cancer have not lessened.
Sun damage can occur when we least expect it, whether you tan or not. Just as the Sun's UV rays allow our bodies to comfortably produce Vitamin D, so does it easily increase our risk of skin cancer.
Myth #3 - Darker skin does not require sunscreen protection
Melanin, the pigment produced in the skin to give the body its colour, does provide some natural protection from UV rays. Hence, people with dark skin have more melanin and those with fair skin, less.
Nonetheless, dark skin is still susceptible to burning and UV radiation. The same goes for olive skin. Skin cell damage from the sun is harder to notice on darker skin until too late. At least an SPF sunblock is recommended, regardless of skin colour.
Myth #4 - I don't need to wear sunscreen since my skin doesn't burn
The old saying "tanning is skin cells in trauma" is true, but still a popular recreational activity in Australia during summer. It doesn't matter if you tan easily without peeling or burning, UV damage happens below the surface.
Skin cells increase their melanin levels, and therefore develop darker pigments, in an effort to defend the body from skin cancer. One damaged skin cell can develop melanoma, Australia's most common skin cancer, only needing to be 1mm thick to spread throughout the body.
Myth #5 - You can't get UV damage on cloudy or cool days
The common misconception of Australians and tourists alike is that UV exposure is something we feel. It's easy to believe that sunburn occurs from heat, but ultraviolet light enters the skin cells regardless if it's sunny, rainy or overcast.
If UV levels are at 3 or above, our skin is at risk, since UV rays penetrate through clouds and we cannot feel UV radiation. Clouds only limit UVA and UVB rays by 25%. Seek shade, apply broad spectrum sunscreen (preferably SPF 30) and wear protective clothing to protect your skin.
Myth #6 - SPF is only needed outside
Whilst sunlight is an outside phenomenon, being inside doesn't protect you from UV radiation. UV rays pass through glass. S0, you may find your hands start to age and wrinkle quicker from exposure through the car window during the midday sun. Also, when UV radiation bounces off reflective surfaces like water and sand can result in indirect UV rays damage.
Myth #7 - Tanning beds are the best way to tan
Tanning beds may have gone out of style, but with each session, the risk of developing skin cancer increases. A tanning bed produces 6 times more radiation than the sun. They can cause you to age prematurely and increase the risk of developing melanoma by 59% more than people who don't use them.
Myth #8 - Every sunscreen is the same
Just as there are different types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell cancer and melanoma, there is such thing as different SPF limiting harmful UV rays of two categories.
Exposure to UVA radiation causes sunburn, skin DNA damage and skin cancer. The latter two are side effects of UVB radiation, which is stronger and mostly stopped by the ozone layer. Ensure the protection offered by your broad spectrum sunscreen begins at SPF 30 for complete coverage.
Myth #9 - The SPF in my makeup is enough sun protection
Whilst any SPF offered by cosmetic products and moisturisers are appreciated, it often isn't enough for our skin, especially during peak UV times. Apply a layer of SPF under your makeup and carry a bottle of powdered or spray-on SPF-50 on hand for top ups, particularly if you are in the sun during peak hours.
Myth #10 - Sunscreen causes Vitamin D deficiency
SPF Sunscreen protects against harmful UV rays and therefore against developing skin cancer, not Vitamin D levels. You only need about a third of the sun exposure required for a sunburn to get enough Vitamin D for your body. There is no significant Vitamin D difference between people who do and don't wear sunscreen, besides a greater skin cancer risk for the latter.
Myth #11 - Sunscreen is toxic
The argument here is that the nanoparticles in sunscreen are potentially toxic, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Research has concluded that these nanoparticles only attack the layer of dead skin cells that comprise the skin's outermost layer, called the stratum corneum. Thus, absorption of toxins is highly unlikely. Besides, Australian SPF sunscreens are comprehensively tested for human safety.
Myth #12 - You don't need to reapply sunscreen after swimming
The misconception between waterproof or water-resistant sunblock stems from a lack of understanding about their differences. Waterproof sun protection does not exist. Instead, it can only resist a certain time being wet before losing effectiveness (between 40-80 minutes).
If you're planning a long day swimming, you will most likely need to reapply your SPF sun protection more regularly. Similarly, sweat breaks down the water resistance of sunscreens. It is always best to reapply liberally to your skin regularly to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
Myth #13 - Young people don't get skin cancer
This is a common myth, since age spots and wrinkles develop later late in life, and people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop skin cancer, due to years of skin damage from being in the sun. Young people, rather, witness more freckles and moles developing.
Whilst young adults are less likely to develop skin cancers, it is still possible. Melanoma is the most common cancer for Australian adolescents and young adults. Moreover, severe sunburns at a young age increase your risk of skin cancer later in life.
Myth #14 - Skin cancer does not develop on an existing mole
Rarely do normal moles develop into melanoma. However, it's important to keep track of spots. What you might believe to be an existing mole, might be a new one—one of the five signs of skin cancer.
Myth #15 - Skin cancer is easy to spot
Sure, self-checking is simple, but suspicious moles can be subtle and develop in hard-to-reach places. The most fool-proof method to spot skin cancers, like melanoma, is with an annual skin cancer check from a doctor. If you want to learn more, we have lots of information on the signs of skin cancer you can read.
Talk to a trusted skin cancer doctor to get the real facts
Got more questions about skin cancer myths? Contact us and we'll be happy to help.
Be certain with Sun Doctors and book your skin check-in today.