Summer is just around the corner: carpools, recess and homework will soon be replaced with road trips, swimsuits and sun! So you—and your kids—should know that 1 in every 3 cancers diagnosed worldwide is a skin cancer.
UV radiation, through exposure to sunlight, is the major environmental factor responsible for basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma skin cancer. The incidence of melanoma, the most commonly fatal form of skin cancer, is increasing faster than any other potentially preventable cancer in the United States.
Let’s expose some common myths that might get you rethinking your sun protection routine.
MYTH 1: Sunscreen Causes Skin Cancer
Fact: The research is clear. Using sunscreens that absorb and/or block UV radiation results in less damage to the skin’s DNA. It’s that DNA damage that increases the risk of skin cancer. So, consistent use of sunscreen equals lower likelihood of developing skin cancer.
There are many sunscreen products that work well, and you should choose the product that works best for you. The American Cancer Society recommends broad-spectrum UV radiation blockers with SPF 30 or greater, reapplied periodically to ensure continuous protection. Most important is that you choose a product you feel comfortable wearing every time you go out in the sun.
MYTH 2: A Light Tan Will Clear Up Acne
Fact: Tanning darkens the skin around pimples, making them stand out less. It does not clear acne. Actually, UV rays damage the skin, weakening the barrier and causing it to lose moisture. In response, your skin will “hydrate” itself by producing more oil, which can then make blackheads more likely to occur.
As if that weren’t enough, many of the chemicals in anti-acne medications (such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) make our skin more sensitive and vulnerable to UV-related aging and damage.
MYTH 3: Darker-Skinned People Don’t Need as Much Sunscreen
Fact: The risk of sunburn is related to the melanin (or color) in our skin. The darker the pigment, the less likely you will burn. But no one is immune to sunburns, so sunscreen is recommended for everyone. And unfortunately, this myth has led to African Americans being diagnosed with skin cancer later and having worse outcomes. In addition, most people are unaware that melanoma can arise in atypical locations (such as the palms, soles of the feet and nail beds). Did you know that Bob Marley died of melanoma at age 36?
MYTH 4: Tanning Beds Are Safer Than Direct Sun Exposure
Fact: “Just one session in a tanning bed increases melanoma risk by 20 percent,” says Dr. Ted Lain, a board certified dermatologist with Steiner Ranch Dermatology. In fact, people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk of melanoma by 75 percent.
Young people are under enormous pressure to dress, talk and look a certain way. Your teen should know that being tan does not mean being healthy. Share with her that sun lamps give off harmful UV rays, with an intensity up to 15 times that of the sun.
“Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young people under 29,” says Lain. “If I could convey one message to teenagers and young adults, it is to absolutely avoid indoor tanning. It causes skin cancer, just like smoking causes lung cancer.”
MYTH 5: You’re Applying Enough Sunscreen
Fact: Don’t be stingy when applying to yourself or your children. To cover your whole body, you would have to use enough to fill a shot glass. Reapply every two to four hours and more often if you are wet. A good way to conserve sunscreen is to cover up with clothing. Clothes are more reliable than sunscreen, because you don’t have to remember to apply and reapply.
Make sunscreen application part of your child’s daily routine. Keep the sunscreen out in the open in the bathroom, next to the toothpaste, as a physical reminder. If your kid is involved in after-school sports, make sure a bottle of sunscreen is always in his equipment bag.
Dr. Lamia Kadir is a board certified family physician practicing in Austin.