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Sunburn

Common Myths about Sun Protection

Misconceptions about sun exposure are plentiful and put people at risk for skin cancer.

“As a practicing dermatologist for over 20 years, I am regularly surprised when patients tell me they love sunbathing and spend hours in the direct sun, that SPF isn’t really important in suntan lotion or that tanning beds aren’t really too risky. When it comes to skin safe sun habits, people have a lot of misinformation,” says dermatologist Meryl Joerg, MD, of Advanced Dermatology PC.

“Many people seem to know that lying out in the sun for hours and getting a blistering sunburn is not good for their skin. Fewer seem to know that even getting a nice brown tan is also bad, ” Joerg says.

Following are four common misconceptions about sun related skin risks and prevention.

Getting a “base tan” prevents sunburn.

According to Joerg: “This is false. A base tan itself causes damage to the skin. Repeated exposure to UV radiation, even without a sunburn, causes wrinkling and may lead to cancer later in life.”  While many people associate a suntan with wealth and success, the truth is that a tan is simply the result of sun damage. It is evidence that your skin has been exposed to ultraviolet radiation. “We advise our patients to use a self-tanner for a summer glow,” Joerg says. “This way you’ll get that tanned look without any damage to your skin.”

 The higher the sunscreen SPF the better.

The sun protection factor, or SPF, refers only to UVB rays. To get UVA protection, a sunscreen labeled ‘broad spectrum’ or one that contains a physical block like titanium dioxide is required. UVB protection doesn’t increase proportionately with the SPF number. Joerg explains that SPF 30 screens about ninety-seven percent of the UVB rays, whereas SPF 15 screens ninety-three percent. Joerg recommends SPF 50 in the summer months and SPF 30 or greater year round.

 Sunscreen needs to be applied only once a day.

Using too little sunscreen in effect reduces a product’s strength and leaves the skin exposed to sun damage. Joerg says that “the rule is to apply about an ounce, the approximate amount of a shot glass, over your body and to reapply it every two hours. It is recommended that people apply and reapply sunscreen more often if you’re swimming, sweating or playing sports.”

 Tanning beds are less risky than a day at the beach.

Millions of Americans visit tanning salons every year, and most don’t realize they’re unsafe. According to Joerg, “people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.” Many states have put restrictions on tanning beds for people under age 18, and some states require parental consent. “We advise our patients to steer clear of tanning beds altogether,” Joerg says.

“The best defense against sun damaged skin in prevention. The few moments a day needed for protecting your skin from the sun will reduce your risk of skin cancer- and the bonus will be that you will have healthier and younger looking skin.”