Growing up through long, lousy winters in Illinois, my friends and I couldn’t wait to get outside at the first sign of spring sun. We were desperate to get a tan, and we “worked” at it with baby oil, reflectors—all the tools of the trade.
Today, we know significantly more about the sun’s power and ability to harm our skin than the medical community did during my invincible teen years in the 1970s, when sunscreens were not yet available.
Unfortunately, the current, widely publicized knowledge doesn’t seem to stop today’s youth from baring their bodies to catch a few rays—and the “skinpact” can be considerable. Recent research has identified an alarming rise in melanoma in the U.S., particularly among young people. According to a study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, rates of this deadly form of skin cancer have grown by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men over the past 40 years.
Every day in my medical practice, I see the devastating effects of the sun—from photoaging to discoloration to skin cancer. Below I shed light on some of the most common myths about the sun. For the sake of your skin and your health, please read on. The power to protect yourself is in your hands.
Myth: Sunscreen keeps you safe all day.
Nothing can protect you 100% from UV rays, except sitting in a windowless room. Sunscreen is an important part of your defense against the sun, but you should consider other options such as protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, too. Also remember that even if you are just heading to work in an office building, the sunscreen you apply first thing in the morning won’t stay with you all day. Your phone will collect sunscreen, as will your hands, lunch napkins, and anything else that rubs up against your face. That’s why it’s so important to reapply sunscreen throughout the day.
Myth: The sun is the best source for vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that prevents rickets in children, maintains bone density in adults, may inhibit certain cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and possibly lessens the risk of diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
There is an ongoing debate in the medical community that daily sun exposure is critical for production of adequate vitamin D. It is true that sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D; however, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you get your daily value of vitamin D from non-sun sources, such as vitamin D–fortified milk, orange juice, salmon and other fatty fishes or a multivitamin containing at least 1000 international units of vitamin D3daily.
Myth: Sunbathing is a good way to clear up acne.
People believe that sun helps to clear up their acne because a tan masks the redness of a breakout and may in fact dry pimples up a bit faster. However, over time, sun exposure causes breakouts rather than clears them. With every tan, cell turnover increases, building up more dead cells. As these dead cells pile up, pores become blocked, causing more breakouts. The best way to treat breakouts is with regular use of a clinically proven acne solution.
Myth: A base tan helps prevent sun damage and sunburn.
“Base tan” is a term popularized by tanning salons and refers to the practice of gradually developing a sun tan through sun exposure or a tanning bed, often before a tropical vacation or other sun-soaked event. The thinking is that somehow, this can prevent a sunburn or sun damage. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. The UV rays that tan your skin in a tanning bed are identical to the UV rays that come from the sun. Most alarming, research based on seven worldwide studies has shown that people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75%.
Sun protection is the single most important way to keep your skin looking young and healthy. However, if you have a history of basking in the sun, don’t despair. There are many options to protect yourself today and plenty of techniques to reduce and reverse the signs of sun damage you may already have. Start by using your sunscreen every day. Your skin will thank you for it and it could save your life.