While a tan does provide some protection from future sun damage, its effect is minimal (around SPF 2). Importantly, the tan itself is evidence of UV damage that has already occurred, and is the body’s way of trying to protect itself from future exposure.
You should just use sunscreens when you expect exposure, like when going hiking, camping, or swimming?
Unfortunately, many people have an all or nothing view of sun exposure (a Monday in the office vs a Saturday at the beach). In truth, we are all exposed to the sun on a daily basis and while it might not be strong or prolonged exposure, the damage adds up, so it’s important to use a sunscreen every day. Secondly, while we sunburns (UVB light is responsible for this) aren’t a worry on cloudy days, UVA (the kind that results in photoaging and increases your risk of skin cancer) is a constant threat to your skin and accounts for most of the UV radiation that you are exposed to.
As long as I wear sunscreen, I can stay out as long as I wish.
Sunscreens are a powerful tool for sun protection, but you still need to be sun smart. All sunscreens degrade over time, and other factors like exposure to water, sweat, or simply wiping it off all wear down its protection. Studies show that people tend to stay out in the sun longer when they apply sunscreen. Over-reliance on sunscreen can sometimes negate its benefits. Remember that while sunscreens are your friend, you need to still be sensible.
SPF factor is everything.
Many people focus entirely on the SPF value of a product – it’s the only number and measurement on the label after all, but they aren’t the whole story. SPF measures UVB (the spectrum of light that causes sunburns) protection but says nothing of UVA protection (the spectrum of light that causes premature aging). Look for a sunscreen product that provides broad spectrum protection (protects from both UVB and UVA), has a SPF of more than 15, and lastly, a product that you would enjoy using – since an unused sunscreen is as ineffective as no sunscreen.
Artificial sources of light from tanning beds are safer than sunlight.
UVA that is emitted from tanning beds can be 10 times as powerful as the sun’s rays. As tanning beds can differ individually, generalizations are hard to make, but the we do know that the UV light that is used in tanning beds are just as harmful as natural sunlight if not more dangerous. Tanning devices increase the risk of BCC by 1.5 fold and SCC by 2.5 fold, a significant margin.
Sunscreen education is pointless. How hard can slapping on sunscreen be?
The data consistently suggests that most of us do it wrong. Manufacturers recommend that sunscreen be applied at 2mg/cm, which is the base assumption that SPF is tested at. In the real world, however, people use about 50% of that amount, and also forget to reapply sunscreen over time. All of these factors mean that people often overestimate how much protection they are receiving.
Sun protection is all about sunscreen.
Sunscreen is an extremely convenient and practical tool to protect yourself from the sun, but it isn’t the end all and be all. Simply avoiding the sun, especially during the mid-afternoon is crucial, and other common sense practice like staying in the shade and wearing longer sleeves are all very important ways to protect your skin.
UVA light can penetrate glass.
UVB rays (the ones that cause sunburn) are shut out by glass, but unfortunately, the shorter-waved UVA rays (the ones that cause premature aging) can penetrate glass.
UVB light is the only spectrum that causes cancer.
Both UVA and UVB light are responsible for causing cancer. They act on the skin in slightly different ways, but both are carcinogenic, and both cause damage in many other ways as well (premature aging, sunburns, immunosuppression).
Sun protection causes Vitamin D deficiency.
Generally, Canadians can receive adequate vitamin D through natural foods (as well as specifically fortified foods), supplements, and incidental sun exposure. Some amount of vitamin D is still produced even if you do apply sunscreen.
The vast majority of sun damage occurs before the age of 18.
This is a very common myth; in reality, it accounts for about a quarter of your lifetime sun exposure. That’s still a significant amount of sun exposure. What is true is that teaching your children sun protection is critically important. It not only prevents sun damage immediately, but it also helps create a lifelong habit of sun protection.