Arm yourself with knowledge by learning the truth behind these tanning myths
Myth: “A base tan protects you”
There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. A. Safe. Tan. A tan is literally your body’s response to being injured by UV exposure. When your cells are exposed to UV light, they produce more melanin, the pigment that colours your skin, which is why you tan. But this is a sign that damage has already been done, not protection against future sun exposure.
Myth: “80 percent of sun damage occurs before age 18, so the injury is already done”
The latest thinking shows that you get closer to just 25 percent of total sun exposure by age 18 – that 80 percent figure is outdated and inaccurate. Further, experts say revamping your sun habits at any age is a smart move. While it’s true that melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is more closely linked to childhood sunburns, it’s cumulative sun exposure that’s associated with other skin cancers.
Myth: “I have dark skin, so I don’t need to worry”
This is just profoundly, radically false. People with more pigment in their skin will have a lower skin cancer risk, they’re not immune. Unfortunately, skin cancer is frequently diagnosed later in people of colour – perhaps because of the misconception that they are not at risk – so it’s often progressed to a later stage and is more difficult to treat.
Myth: “As long as I protect my face, it’s OK”
Skin cancer loves anywhere the sun touches. You can get it on your arms, legs, back, feet, and chest. So while it’s good to protect your face, skipping the rest of you leaves you vulnerable. Not just to skin cancer, but signs of ageing as well.
Myth: “Anything above SPF 15 is a waste”
There is still much debate regarding the merits of super-high SPFs, but many dermatologists agree that there are meaningful differences between 15, 30, and 50, especially because we’re just so bad at applying sunscreen properly. If you use SPF 50, you really get the protection of an SPF 20 based on how people actually apply it. That includes both applying too little in the first place and not reapplying often enough (every two hours or so when you’re at the beach or pool all day). Doctors generally recommended a minimum of SPF 30 for everyday sunscreen and SPF 50 for long stints outside.
Myth: “But I need sun to get enough vitamin D”
This is a common misconception. First, most people don’t apply sunscreen well enough to prevent skin from producing vitamin D. Second, you need much less time in the sun to make adequate levels than you might think. If your skin just kept making vitamin D in response to sunlight, it would reach toxic levels. After 15 minutes or so, the system overloads and production stops. Being tan isn’t a good indicator of healthy vitamin D levels. You can get enough vitamin D from a mix of diet, supplements, and incidental sun exposure.
Myth: “I don’t need sunscreen if it’s not ‘peak tanning hours’”
Your likelihood of burning is worse when the sun is directly overhead – from about 10am to 2pm – but dermatologists were unanimous that tanning at any hour of the day isn’t safe. Although UVB rays, which cause burning and some skin cancers, peak at mid-day, UVA rays, which contribute to ageing and some skin cancers, are constant all day long, The worst sunburns are often seen on cloudy days. Clouds block infrared rays, so you don’t feel hot, but they only block 20 percent of UV rays so you can still get burned.
Myth: “I’m allergic to all sunscreens”
While many people don’t love the gloopy or viscous texture or the irritation sunscreen can sometimes cause, being truly allergic is exceptionally rare. If you have sensitive skin, stick to a physical sunscreen, which has titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to block rays, which will be less aggravating. Always do a test spot before applying all over.
Myth: “Skin cancer isn’t that big a deal”
Thankfully many skin cancers – when caught early and removed promptly – aren’t too damaging or life threatening. But assuming you can just get rid of a cancerous mole and move on is dangerous. While non-melanoma skin cancer typically doesn’t travel throughout the body, it’s still cancer and will continue to destroy your skin and invade the tissues if it’s not removed.