Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the country. About 6 million Americans get diagnosed every year. It’s also one of the easiest to prevent. To help you and your family stay safe, here’s the facts behind the most common skin myths.
Myth: All sunscreen is pretty much the same, and using high SPF (over 30) makes no difference.
Truth: SPF 30 blocks about 97 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks about 98 percent. So anything with SPF 30 or higher is fine. What’s more important is using it properly by applying a liberal amount to all exposed areas of skin and reapplying at least every couple of hours.
Myth: People don’t need to worry about sun protection on overcast days or while driving.
Truth: It’s especially important to wear sun protection on cloudy days because you may get burned without noticing it. The same is true in the car because the side windows don’t block UVA rays (the front windshield does). While driving, wear sunscreen on your arms and face so you don’t get skin damage over time without realizing it.
Myth: Tanning beds offer a safe alternative to sunbathing.
Truth: Tanning beds are not safe. If you’re getting tan, you’re doing damage regardless of the light source. Artificial tanning products like sprays and lotions do provide safe tanning alternatives, but they don’t offer any protection from sun exposure.
Myth: Skin cancer affects only older people, so kids and teenagers don’t have to worry about sun protection.
Truth: Skin cancer results—in part—from cumulative sun exposure throughout your life. On average, people get 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure during their youth, so it’s especially important for young people to use sun protection to reduce their risk later in life.
Myth: Skin cancer is easily removed and not a big deal.
Truth: The most common skin cancers are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which spread only locally. These can be removed without lasting risk, but removal may cause disfigurement depending on the size and location of the cancer. Melanoma, on the other hand, is aggressive, deadly and very hard to remove or treat once it metastasizes.
From the desk of Harry Dorset, MD, General Hospital chief medical officer.