Summer’s in full swing! By now you’ve surely been soaking up the sun at the beach, lake, or pool. You’re even taking in those rays while walking around town, mowing the lawn, or playing at the park. Unfortunately, ultraviolet—or UV—rays from the sun can damage your skin and cause skin cancer, which is on the rise in the U.S.
About 96,480 new melanomas—the most serious kind of skin cancer—will be diagnosed this year in the U.S.,1 and about 4.3 million people will be treated for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.2
Your skin’s protector, melanin, works to change the skin’s color to red, pink, or tan with exposure to the sun. Sunburn, tanning, patches of color, and freckles are all evidence of sun damage. Proper sunscreen use can help guard against this damage, explains Dr. Jeffrey Zwerner, senior medical director of dermatology at Teladoc, but adds that there are certain misconceptions that should be cleared up.
Before you enjoy more time outdoors this summer, review these commonly held myths about sunburn, and check out our suggestions for keeping your skin safe.
Myth #1: Clouds ensure my safety.
Just because you can’t feel the intense burn of the sun’s rays doesn’t mean they aren’t there. UV rays can still be powerful on a cloudy or even overcast day. The sun doesn’t need to be shining brightly to give a scorching.
UV rays may also be partially blocked in a shady spot created by tree leaves or a beach umbrella. But they frequently bounce off reflective surfaces like grass, sand, sidewalks, and water to hit your skin. So even if you think that shade or clouds reduce your risk of sun damage, you still need to wear sunscreen.
Myth #2: Having darker skin protects me.
It’s a common myth that the burden of sun damage is carried by the pale, red-headed, or most-freckled among us. But people with darker skin still experience sun damage, even if it doesn’t show as the common pink burn. In fact, survival rates for certain types of melanoma are actually much lower for non-white people3 due to a lack of awareness about the sun’s risks on darker skin. This group should not be in the sun for hours without protection, Dr. Zwerner says. Those with darker skin can also experience wrinkles and early skin aging from too much sun.
Melasma, a common skin condition, can bring patches of discoloration—especially in darker skin types—after being in the sun. “Once skin pigments asymmetrically on the face of people with darker skin, it can be very difficult to treat,” explains Dr. Zwerner. “So, sunblock will help reduce that risk.”
Myth #3: Apply sunscreen once and I’m good.
Slathering on a good coat of sunscreen—whether it be a lotion, cream, stick, paste, or spray—can be a tedious chore. Ask any parent of a cranky, wriggling, sandy toddler. But sunscreen is not “once and done,” Dr. Zwerner says. “If you’re outside for more than two hours, you’ll need to reapply sunscreen. One application is not enough for a long period outside,” he says.
Take great care to apply plenty of sunscreen to any area of the skin that’s exposed, including nose, cheeks, ears, neck, arms, legs, and even hands and feet. Try to apply it at least a few minutes before going outside. While you shouldn’t put sunscreen in your mouth, you can use a lip balm with sunscreen. Eyes should be protected by sunglasses, and a hat is also a wise summer accessory.
Reapply sunscreen to all areas again after two hours outside, even if you’re in partial shade. If you or your child is swimming or sweating a lot, slather up more frequently! While some sunscreens are marketed as “water-resistant,” they are not entirely waterproof.
Myth #4: All sunscreens are created equal.
The waterproof sunscreen brings us to our next point: Not all sunscreens bring the same level of quality or protection. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends broad-spectrum sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and is looking to raise the maximum proposed SPF value from SPF 50+ to SPF 60+.4
The idea here is simple: The higher the number, the better the coverage. “Broad spectrum” covers both UVA and UVB rays, the two basic types of ultraviolet rays that can contribute to skin cancer.4 For women, it’s important not to rely on makeup alone to prevent sun damage on the face.
Myth #5: Skin protection is a “tomorrow problem.”
Young people often lack the motivation (or good, plain sense!) to protect their skin from sun damage. Teenagers—and even 20-somethings—have been known to coat themselves with tanning oil and bake till they achieve that golden-brown hue of a rotisserie chicken. But as Dr. Zwerner reminds us, “Your skin is with you your whole life.”
The time for prevention is now. If you have young children, stay on top of daily sunscreen duty. “You want to set a solid foundation for skin health as early as possible to prevent the risk of skin cancers,” Dr. Zwerner says. Protecting the skin from the sun’s damaging rays will also reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging like brown spots.
If you’ve waited until you see these signs, you’ve already waited too long. Most adult skin cancers develop as a result of poor sun protection during earlier years of life. Use sunscreen regularly, and also wear protective hats and clothing. Whether you get “pink” or “tan,” steer clear of the sun as much as possible. Your skin will thank you.
If you have experienced a bad sunburn (we all make mistakes, right?) or want to talk to a board-certified dermatologist about your sun protection challenges, Teladoc experts are here for you. Download our app or sign in now to request a visit to discuss how you can still have fun in the sun.
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