6 sunscreen myths debunked

Several myths are floating around about sunscreen.

Whether you spray it or slather it on, sunscreen is a summer staple.

However, there are many misconceptions surrounding sunscreen usage. Sun protection is critical in reducing your risk against skin cancer, which is the most common cancer in the United States.

Before heading out to soak up some rays, it’s important to clarify why Americans spend a total of $8.6 billion each year on sun care products – and if it’s worth it. (Spoiler: It is.)

Melanoma Multidisciplinary Team Member and Dermatologist at Karmanos Cancer Institute Dr. Steven Daveluy shared some facts that can unmask the truth about sunblock.

Myth 1: Sunscreen causes cancer.

There is no medical evidence to suggest that sunscreen is hazardous to one’s health or that sunscreen is linked to cancer. In fact, mineral-based sunscreen acts as a preventative barrier residing on top of the skin and does not penetrate the skin’s natural barrier.

The ingredients in sunscreen, commonly identified as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, only block the sun on the surface and evaporate afterward. This necessary protection can minimize the short and long-term effects of the sun’s rays. “Melanoma takes the lives of millions per year. Sunscreen has never once killed a person,” said Dr. Daveluy.

Myth 2: Sunscreen should only be used when I’m directly in the sun.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about sun protection is that people don’t realize that you have to wear sunscreen every day,” said Dr. Daveluy. “Sunscreen is essential for everyone’s wellbeing during every month of the year with no exception. Even while you are indoors, the UV rays can penetrate the glass and cause irreversible damage to the skin.”

What about on cloudy days? Even on an overcast day, nearly 80 percent of UV radiation still reaches the skin and can cause skin damage. On cloudy days, UV radiation often causes an even more intense effect than on days without clouds. Simply put, “If it is light out, you need sunscreen,” Dr. Daveluy said.

Myth 3: Applying sunscreen once is sufficient.

Sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 50 or higher should be reapplied every two hours. SPF 50 blocks nearly 97 percent of the sun’s UV rays, which commonly damage the skin’s outer layer and can cause an increased risk of skin cancer. When you are outside, a combination of sweat, water and sunlight can gradually breakdown the sunscreen’s effectiveness; therefore, no matter how high the SPF, sunscreen must be consistently reapplied every two hours.

Sun protective clothing and accessories can further assist in blocking the effects of the sun. Umbrellas can block up to 98 percent of the sun’s rays. The best way to protect the face, neck and shoulders is by using a sun-safe, wide-brim hat. Some of the most commonly diagnosed skin cancers first appear on the head and neck making hats one of the most important safeguards.

Myth 4: I need to be in the sun so I can get my Vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiencies are considered a major public health issue around the world. In the United States, 40 percent of adults have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine” vitamin because it’s the nutrient naturally produced by the body in sunlight. However, as Dr. Daveluy said, “If you have the choice between getting vitamin D that could come with cancer or getting it in a way with less risk, you should go with the vitamin D that doesn’t come with cancer.”

One study that analyzed the body’s natural vitamin D production measured the amount of sunlight at the top of the Empire State Building. The results showed that even if you spent 365 days a year naked on top of the Empire State Building, you could not get enough vitamin D from the sun alone. Therefore, vitamin D supplements, commonly found in multivitamins or fortified milk, constitute a safer method to ensure an adequate intake of this vital nutrient.

Myth 5: Only sun exposure causes skin cancer.

Sun exposure is the most common cause of skin cancer; however, tanning beds can also create damaging effects to the health of the skin. Indoor tanning increases your risk of melanoma, while also permanently damaging your DNA.

In addition, if you have a family history of skin cancer, you may be at an increased risk of developing skin cancer. Karmanos’ genetic counseling specialists can evaluate your family history to determine whether you or your family members may be more prone to skin cancer, and possibly other cancers, because of your genetic make-up. This can assist you and your doctors in determining what screening, management and treatment decisions may be best.

The Melanoma Multidisciplinary Team at Karmanos Cancer Institute commonly sees referred patients when concerns arise. Dr. Daveluy said, “One of the best things is giving people good news that the thing they came in for is not cancer.”

Myth 6: I have dark skin, so I don’t need to wear sunscreen.

Those with darker skin tones naturally produce more of a chemical called melanin, which is responsible for skin pigmentation. Many people believe that melanin protects against sun damage but this belief is incorrect. Skin cancer can affect anyone, including people of color. While melanin may have some protective properties, UV rays can still cause skin damage.

In addition, melanoma can be more deadly for people of color. While more instances of melanoma occur in those with lighter skin, people of color who are diagnosed with this disease tend to get results at a later stage, making treatment more difficult.

To protect against skin cancer, you need to know the facts and debunk the myths regarding sun exposure. If you suspect or have been diagnosed with cancer, it’s important to be evaluated by cancer experts before beginning treatment. In the fight against cancer, Karmanos can offer your best chance.