Sun Exposure: Myths and Facts

Sun exposure is the best source of vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium for stronger, healthier bones. But too much time in the sun for most people leads to repeated unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Over exposure to sun can cause skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression, and skin cancer. There are a number of misconceptions about sun exposure, skin cancer and the requirement of vitamin D. Find out the fact behind myths related to the sun:

Sun Myths and Facts

  • Myth: Skin cancer is not a big issue and is very rare type of cancer.
  • Fact: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world. The prevalence of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over the past decades. Currently, between 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year. One in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer. Even if detected at an early stage, skin cancer requires surgery and leaves permanent scarring.
  • Myth: Tanned skin is healthy, and even sexy.
  • Fact: Tanned skin is not healthy skin. Tanning occurs due to skin damage. A tan is the skin’s physical reaction to protect itself from the environmental stress caused by UVR and is caused by UVR-induced DNA mutations.
  • Myth: Only people of a certain skin type or hair color, generally fair skin get skin cancer.
  • Fact: Skin cancer is more common in fair skinned people but the risk is equal in all skin types. UVR exposure and other non-genetic risk factors are related to many forms of skin cancer, including melanoma.
  • Myth: The best way to get vitamin D is through lots of natural sunlight.
  • Fact: Sun exposure is necessary to obtain vitamin D but it does not require long. Vitamin D can also be obtained safely from foods like dairy products and/or supplements without the connected risks of UVR exposure.
  • Myth: A tan is nature’s way of making the skin more resistant to UVR exposure.
  • Fact: A tan does not provide sufficient skin protection against sunburn. A tan is equivalent to a sunscreen with an SPF 2 to 4, which is not enough to provide protection from sunburn or skin cancer. Sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher is recommended by dermatologists to safeguard from the potentially harmful effects of UVR.
  • Myth: One needs not to wear sunscreen or pay attention to the UV index on cloudy days.
  • Fact: The UV index can still be high on cloudy or partly cloudy days. Clouds only block 20% of the sun’s UVR even though they block the visible light. You should use a combination of sun protection measures.
  • Myth: Sunscreens contain harmful chemicals or allergens.
  • Fact: The ingredients of the sunscreen adhere to certain health guidelines and are tested to make sure they are safe. Many natural sunscreens and sun blocks contain physical barriers (like Zinc oxide) and have few additives like fragrances. Chemicals are not used as they were in the earlier times.
  • Myth: The temperature is a good technique to tell what the UV index is.
  • Fact: The UV index reflects solar ultra-violet ray intensity, which is not related to temperature. Elements like latitude, altitude, air pollutants, cloud, reflective surfaces, period of year and time of day determine UV levels.
  • Myth: Sunscreen is the only way to prevent overexposure to UVR.
  • Fact: There are many ways to reduce UVR exposure. Examples of control measures include checking the UV Index each day and adjusting work schedules to avoid the peak UV periods, or using available shade.
  • Myth: Vehicle windows block all UVR.
  • Fact: Vehicle windows can allow up to 60 to 70% of UVR to penetrate.
  • Myth: You should apply and re-apply sunscreen and bug repellant together.
  • Fact: One should reapply sunscreen every two hours (or more often if you have been in the water or sweating) while insect repellent applied once may last for several hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, to apply sunscreen first before applying insect repellent.
  • Myth: There is no real difference in how UVA and UVB rays affect skin.
  • Fact: The UVB rays only penetrate the top layer of skin, causing it to burn. UVA rays enter deeper, and cause damage to skin elasticity and more importantly, cause skin cancer. When searching for a sunscreen, note that a “broad spectrum” sunscreen is best.
  • Myth: Everyone knows how to put on sunscreen.
  • Fact: Only 30% of the population uses sunscreen protection, and only 50% of those people put it on correctly.
  • Myth: Sunscreens protect all day.
  • Fact: Regardless of the SPF or what the product label says, sunscreens must be reapplied every 80 minutes or less. Users mistakenly think a high-SPF product will protect them all day with one application, when in fact all sunscreens must be reapplied regularly.
  • Myth: Skin cancer is so rare my chances of getting it are almost impossible.
  • Fact: Not necessarily. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in some form in their lifetime. Melanoma in children has been increasing by almost 3% a year.
  • Myth: Waterproof or sweat proof sunscreen need to be applied once for the day.
  • Fact: Sunscreen manufacturers used the terminology “water/sweat/perspiration resistant”. Still, this only means the sunscreen offers SPF protection after 40 minutes of water exposure. When a sunscreen is branded “very water resistant” it gives up to 80 minutes of protection after water exposure. Remember to also use water resistant sunscreen while doing an activity that causes you to sweat a lot. The key is to re-apply at regular intervals.
  • Myth: Sunscreen can provide total sun block.
  • Fact: No sunscreen blocks 100 percent of UV rays. SPF 15 protects against 93 percent, though. SPF 30 protects against 97 percent. SPF 50-60 shutout 98 percent. The higher the SPF the more harsh chemicals are in the product.
  • Myth: Sunscreen is all you need to stay safe.
  • Fact: Sunscreen is only one piece of the puzzle. Other pieces include seeking shade between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, covering up with clothing, wearing broad-brimmed hats, and UV-blocking sunglasses, completing self-exams/exams on your children, and scheduling for annual professional skin evaluations. Sunscreen is not only all you need to be safe from the sun.
  • Myth: All sunscreens block some UVA.
  • Fact: Many sunscreens provide some UVA protection. The broad-spectrum sunscreens include zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide. These reflect the sun by covering on top of the skin and not by being absorbed.
  • Myth: An SPF 60+ provides double the protection of an SPF 30.
  • Fact: A SPF 60+ does not mean double the protection of a sunscreen of an SPF 30. The higher spectrum sunscreen contains more chemicals, potentially putting more toxins in your body.
  • Myth: People with darker skin do not need to wear sunscreen.
  • Fact: People with darker complexions are still at risk for getting skin cancer, though the risk for sun damage causing cancer or wrinkles is less than those with lighter skin tones. But since the risk is not zero, using sunscreen is still important.
  • Myth: Skin cancer only happens to older people.
  • Fact: Skin cancer can affect any age. High sun exposure in the first 10 years of life more than doubles your risk of developing melanoma. The good news is that in recent years melanoma incidence rates have been decreasing among young people aged 15 to 29 years due to increased awareness and improved childhood sun protection practices.

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