Myth: Sunscreen Is All You Need to Prevent Skin Cancer
As the weather warms up and people emerge from hibernation, we dust off the sunscreen, dab it on, and head outside–feeling safe from the sun.
But we’re not, says the Pennsylvania Medical Society. “There is no such thing as a healthy tan. UV rays can kill you,” notes dermatologist John Laskas Jr., M.D., current president of the PA Academy of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, and Pennsylvania Medical Society member. “It doesn’t mean you have to stay in the basement. But it does mean you need to do more than apply a little sunscreen.”
Fellow dermatologist and Medical Society member Bruce Brod, M.D., agrees. “Unfortunately, sunscreen gives us a false sense of security. It’s like driving a car. A seatbelt can save your life, but you also need to drive responsibly. The same goes for sun exposure–you can apply sunscreen, but that alone won’t prevent skin cancer.”
According to the Medical Society’s recent statewide Patient Poll, more than 60% of respondents indicated that they rarely wore sunscreen, even though they also stated that they were concerned about cancer. Between 2001 and 2005, more than 2000 Pennsylvanians died of melanoma of the skin and 60% were men. The Patient Poll also showed that males were less likely to wear sunscreen than females, putting them at significantly higher risk for skin cancer.
Contrary to popular belief, skin cancer is not just a summer issue. UV. rays damage the skin 365 days a year, reflecting off snow and passing through car windows. There is also a popular misconception that a “base tan” can make you better protected as you go outdoors. “Patients come back from vacation and tell me proudly that they had a good ‘ base’ and used sunscreen. And I tell them that the fact that you’re tan means there’s skin damage,” says Dr. Brod.
Both physicians are particularly concerned about the use of tanning beds and booths, especially by teens. The intense UV. rays cause significant skin damage which results in premature aging of the skin and a higher incidence of melanoma– the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Dr. Laskas advises patients to be reasonable. “Don’t sunbathe, indoors or outdoors. When you do go outdoors, wear a sunblock that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If you’re bald, wear a hat and if you absolutely have to be tan, try some of the new self-tanning products to get that ‘golden glow.’”
Sun Safety Tips:
–Keep sunscreen handy in bathroom, purse, car. Apply at least one ounce first thing in the morning before you go outside. Reapply often if you are outdoors and immediately after swimming. Choose an SPF 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
–Cover up. Wear a hat that covers your ears. Wear sunglasses. Wear a lightweight shirt and pants that cover as much skin as possible.
–Avoid peak hours. Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV. rays are strongest. And stay in the shade whenever possible.
–Avoid tanning salons. Ten minutes in a tanning bed equals two hours in the sun.
–Examine your skin regularly. Also schedule a yearly exam with a physician.