By now, you are probably aware that melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. You know that sun exposure is a major risk factor and you should be checking your body for new or changing blemishes and moles on a regular basis. There are, however, some myths about sun exposure and melanoma that I want you to be aware of.
1. MYTH: Getting a little color is good for you… FALSE. You have heard the dire warnings about the sun, but even after the skin cancer hype of the last few years, many people still want a dark tan, or at least “a little color.” They trade the instant gratification of today’s tan for wrinkles and perhaps cancer in the future.
FACT: The sun causes DNA mutations to your skin. Your skin tans only as a means to protect itself from further injury. On your face, sun damage leaves deep wrinkles, freckles, brown spots, and superficial blood vessels. Your skin actually becomes thinner and loses its elasticity.The ultraviolet rays that affect the skin are both the shorter UVB rays and the longer UVA rays. UVB are the rays that cause sunburns. Years of accumulated UVB damage can cause the skin to develop precancerous lesions and ultimately skin cancers. UVA rays cause aging by penetrating deeper into the skin, breaking down the skin’s supporting structure, elastin and collagen. Both UVA and UVB rays have been implicated in the development of melanomas. The sun also emits a very harmful third type of ray, UVC, which is filtered out by the ozone layers. If the ozone continues to thin, we may experience more effects from UVC.
2. MYTH: Skin will heal itself if you just stay out of the sun…FALSE
FACT: Early in life your skin can repair the trauma from ultraviolet rays, but the cumulative destruction adds up. Eventually, skin cannot repair itself, and permanent injuries and wrinkles appear. The Sun Causes 90% of “Aging” Skin. Even a little bit of sun hurts. Sun damage accumulates over your life. A small dose every day, every week or just every summer makes the overall damage much greater. Some people who like to have a tan decide at a young age that they will have plastic surgery later in their lives. As a dermatologist who has treated thousands of skin cancers and performed countless cosmetic procedures, I guarantee that no matter what you do to your skin, it will be healthier and more attractive if you stay out of the sun now. Continuing to expose yourself to ultraviolet light (including tanning beds) will reverse the benefits of any cosmetic skin procedure you have done.
3. MYTH: Skin cancer happens only to people with a history of severe sunburns…FALSE
FACT: While people who sunburn easily have a greater risk of developing skin cancer, sun exposure can cause cancer if you have never sunburned but have had long-term sun exposure.
4. MYTH: UVA rays from tanning booths are safe and do not harm your skin…FALSE
FACT: Exposure to both UVB and UVA radiation threatens unprotected eyes and skin. Though tanning salons may say their booths have only UVA rays, these still wreak havoc on your skin.
5. MYTH: People need a great deal of natural sunlight because the skin needs the Vitamin D it manufactures when exposed to ultraviolet light.
FACT: The skin needs only a very limited amount of sun exposure to help make Vitamin D. Dairy products and many other foods are fortified and provide all the Vitamin D you need.
6. MYTH: Melanomas form only on sun-exposed areas…FALSE
FACT: Melanomas are more likely to show up on your face, neck, legs and back, but they can also develop on less exposed areas, such as the soles of your feet and palm of your hands.
To learn more about Sun Protection, read my article titled IS SUNSCREEN ALL YOU NEED?