Preventing Skin Cancer: 6 Myths About Sun Protection

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. with estimates suggesting that nearly one in five Americans will be affected by some form in their lifetime.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths surrounding sun protection as exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays is one of the biggest risk factors contributing to skin cancer. Here are five of the most common ones, debunked by the experts:

1. Chemicals in sunscreen cause cancer. 

The American Academy of Dermatology clarified that sunscreen is safe and protects skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation which "outweighs any unproven claims of toxicity or human health hazard."

Oxybenzone is one of the ingredients of sunscreen that many fear may be linked to cancer. However, sunscreen containing the FDA-approved ingredient has not been proven to cause cancer and is recommended for both adults and children older than 6 months.

2. Sun damage can only occur on hot and sunny days.

Contrary to popular belief, the damage inflicted by UV rays is not dependent on the temperature or how "summery" the weather is. Sun damage can occur even on cool, cloudy days as the rays can penetrate clouds. If you have access to a UV index on the internet or the weather forecast, note that any number over 3 indicates that sun protection is needed.

3. People with darker skin tones are naturally protected from the sun.

Melanin is the natural pigment that gives the skin its color, and it is usually produced more in dark-skinned people. The pigment does offer some level of protection according to Dr. Maritza Perez, associate professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University in New York City.

But dark skin does not guarantee protection against sun damage and skin cancer. Dr. Perez added that this myth is dangerous as people of darker shades may take sun protection less seriously, leaving them vulnerable. "So while skin cancer is much more common among lighter-skinned people, it tends to be more deadly among people of color," she said.

4. Tanning beds are safer than sunlight exposure

"It doesn't matter whether you get it from the sun or from artificial sources such as sunlamps and tanning beds — UV radiation is linked to skin cancers," said Dr. Linda Robb-Nicholson, a board-certified internist in Boston.

There are three kinds of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. While UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and fail to reach us, the other two rays penetrate atmospheric layers and cause problems ranging from premature aging to eye damage to skin cancer. Dr. Robb-Nicholson explained that UVA radiation is up to three times more intense inside a tanning bed compared to the UVA in natural sunlight.

5. Glass windows are enough for protection from the sun 

Glass windows can filter out UVB rays but still do not protect against UVA rays. People who spend a lot of time in their cars can consider tinting their windows to reduce the risk of sun damage. This can keep out almost four times more UVA light than regular ones. This should be taken as an additional measure, not as a replacement for sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen indoors is not necessary unless the house has a lot of windows, exposing residents to as much sunlight as they would get outside.