ST. CHARLES COUNTY, MO – One out of five Americans develops skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Not surprisingly, skin damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is a common risk factor.
Despite the prevalence of this illness, people have many misconceptions about when and how to protect themselves from excessive sun exposure, says Sara Evers, acting director of the St. Charles County Department of Public Health.
“The more serious health concerns from over-exposure to UV radiation don’t appear right away. They are issues caused by damage that builds up over time,” says Evers. “Along with increased cancer risk, excessive UV exposure over time can also cause skin to age prematurely, damage vision, and possibly suppress the body’s immune system.”
The following are common sun safety myths that health experts like Evers are frequently dispelling:
Myth: Getting sunburned once or twice is no big deal. “Studies show even occasional damage from strong UV exposure can increase the risk of cancer,” Evers says.
Myth: I don’t need to worry about sun safety on cloudy days. “Ambient sunlight and UV rays still reach you on cloudy days, so you should still take precautions if you’re going to be outside for an extended time,” Evers notes.
Myth: If I get a safe “base tan,” I don’t need to use sunscreen. “Your skin becomes tan in response to UV damage that has already occurred, so there’s no such thing as a ‘safe tan,’” Evers explains. “As far as whether a tan substitutes for other sun protection, evidence shows getting a tan provides only minimal protection compared to sunscreen.”
Myth: One use of sunscreen is good for all day. “The longest you should go before reapplying sunscreen is two hours,” Evers says. “That could be shorter, depending on the product or situation. Many sunscreens come off while swimming, sweating, or toweling dry, and water-resistant sunscreens might only be effective for about an hour.”
Evers recommends these four sun safety tips:
• Limit outdoor activities during peak sun exposure times of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• Wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeve shirts and long pants.
• Use sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Reapply sunscreen as often as directed on the bottle, or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
• Wear sunglasses that block UV rays to protect eye health.
• Perform regular self-exams for unusual skin spots or growths, especially if you have a history of sun exposure or family medical history of skin cancer.