Myth vs. Reality: Sun Exposure and Damage

Myth: A suntan is fine, as long as you don’t burn.

Reality: Getting a base tan is NOT a healthy way to protect skin. 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.


Myth: It is smarter to tan indoors using a tanning bed.

Reality: While the dose of UV exposure in a tanning bed is controlled, it’s a very high dose. Compared to those who lie out by the pool, indoor tanners actually have a much higher risk of developing skin cancer. 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. While you may feel more confident with that bronze glow now, frequent sunburns and hours of tanning can result in permanent skin damage, dark spots and premature aging and wrinkling.


Myth: If it’s cool or cloudy outside, you don’t need sunscreen.

Reality: Up to eighty percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds. This is the reason people often end up with serious sunburns on overcast days if they’ve spent time outside with no sun protection.


Myth: I am wearing a T-shirt. So, I don’t need to apply sunscreen.

Reality: Darker fabrics with thicker weaves block more sun. A white T-shirt has an SPF of about 7, but once it gets wet, the SPF drops down to about 3. If you hold a fabric up to the light and can see through it, then UV radiation can penetrate it. This means you need to apply sunscreen underneath. Or, consider using a laundry additive such as SunGuard (approximately $1.99/washload and available on which blocks about 96 percent of UV rays in your own clothing.


Myth: Most sun damage occurs before the age of 18.

Reality: Contrary to previous estimates, recent studies show that we get less than 25 percent of our total lifetime sun exposure before age 18. That means you get the majority of it later on. So while you should be careful about consistently protecting your kids, make sure you take care of yourself, too. Eighty-three percent of parents arm their kids with sunscreen and protective clothing for outdoor activities, but only two-thirds of parents practice what they preach. Remember, kids don’t always pay attention to what you say, but they do remember what you do.


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