Half the battle in knowing how to properly protect oneself from skin cancer is being able to separate fact from fiction. Unfortunately, some myths about tanning and sun protection are deep rooted and could mislead people into thinking that tanning is safe – when, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Now, a new survey by the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy) sets the record straight on some of the most common myths and what people believe to be true about tanning and sun protection.
The “Suntelligence: How Sun Smart is Your City?” online survey polled more than 7,000 adults nationwide to determine their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward tanning, sun protection and skin cancer detection. Twenty-six cities were ranked based on respondents’ answers to several questions in each category.
“Our survey showed that despite our repeated warnings about the dangers of UV exposure and the importance of proper sun protection, many people could not correctly answer true/false statements on the subject,” said dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos, MD, FAAD, consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. “Identifying what areas people need to improve their understanding of tanning and sun protection allows dermatologists to concentrate our educational efforts in these areas to increase knowledge, which could eventually help reduce the incidence of skin cancer in future generations.”
Myth: Some types of ultraviolet (UV) rays are safe for your skin.
The survey found that only about one-third (35 percent) of respondents correctly answered false to this question.
Fact: Sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays (which pass through window glass) penetrate deeper into the thickest layer of the skin known as the dermis. UVA rays can cause suppression of the immune system, which interferes with the immune system’s ability to protect a person against the development and spread of skin cancer. UVB rays are the sun’s burning rays (which are blocked by window glass) and are the primary cause of sunburn.
“Quite simply, all forms of UV exposure, whether from natural sunlight or artificial light sources found in tanning beds, are unsafe and are the No. 1 preventable risk factor for skin cancer,” said Dr. Draelos.
Myth: Getting a base tan is a healthy way to protect skin from sun damage.
Only 48 percent of respondents knew this statement was false.
Fact: A tan is a sign of damage to the skin from UV radiation. Every time a person tans, the skin becomes damaged and this damage accumulates over time. This accumulated damage, in addition to accelerating the aging process, also increases a person’s risk for all types of skin cancer.
“A base does very little to protect your skin, and since tanning damages the skin, getting a base tan could do more harm than good.” said Dr. Draelos. “The only way to prevent sunburn is to protect your skin through using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and seeking shade.”
Myth: It is smarter to tan indoors using a tanning bed.
More than half (63 percent) of respondents knew that this statement was false.
Fact: The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency of Research on Cancer panel has declared UV radiation from the sun and artificial light sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogen. Indoor tanning equipment, which includes all artificial light sources, emits UVA and UVB radiation. It has been shown that the amount of the radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun, and in some cases might be stronger.
“Despite claims by those in the tanning industry that UVA rays used in indoor tanning are safer because they do not cause sunburn, scientific evidence proves that this claim is untrue,” said Dr. Draelos. “UVA rays cause deeper skin damage and are linked to melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. In fact, studies show that melanoma is increasing faster in females 15-29 years old than males in the same age group. And in females 15-29, the torso is the most common location for developing melanoma, which we suspect is due to high-risk tanning behaviors – including indoor tanning.”
Myth: A sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 provides twice the protection as an SPF 15.
Only 21 percent of respondents knew this statement was not true.
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, UVB protection from the sun’s burning rays does not actually increase proportionately with a designated SPF number. For example, an SPF of 30 screens 97 percent of UVB rays, whereas an SPF of 15 screens 93 percent of UVB rays, and an SPF of 2 screens 50 percent of UVB rays.
Dr. Draelos also noted that inadequate application of sunscreen may result in a lower SPF than the product contains.
“Regardless of the SPF you use, wearing sunscreen should not provide a false sense of security about protection from UVB exposure,” said Dr. Draelos. “No sunscreen can provide 100 percent UVB protection, but using a higher SPF provides greater UVB protection than a lower SPF. It’s important to remember sunscreen must be reapplied regularly and be part of an overall sun-protection plan that includes hats, sunglasses, protective clothing and seeking shade.”
May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month®. Visit www.melanomamonday.org to take the Academy’s “Suntelligence” survey, as well as to find out how to perform a skin self-exam, download a body mole map or find free skin cancer screenings in your area.
The “Suntelligence” survey was conducted for the Academy by RH Research of Chicago from January 12 to January 31, 2010. A total of 7,116 respondents completed the online survey; more than 200 completes were conducted in each of the 26 selected MSAs (metropolitan statistical area) and an additional 1,123 completes were conducted in the U.S. outside of the MSAs. The survey’s margin of error was ±1.2 percent for national data and ±6.9 percent for results stratified by MSA.
American Academy of Dermatology (Academy)