7 Myths About Tanning and Sun Exposure
By Brianna McCabe
There’s just something about this time of year…
Something that makes most of us want to prance around in winding fields of green grass as the aroma of fresh flowers shimmies into our nostrils (almost as a nod to the opening scene of The Sound of Music)…
Something about the warmth of the sun ever so gently absorbing into our skins after enduring months of coldness from the winter and early spring…
Something about feeling almost… thawed!
“Now is when a lot of people begin planning vacations and think about achieving that ‘healthy’ glow,” shares Alexis Young, M.D., a board certified dermatologist at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group. “But when it comes to skin care, most people say the word ‘healthy’ quite loosely.”
In fact, Dr. Young warns that many individuals underestimate the dangers of the sun and the importance of proper skin protection.
When discussing tanning and sun exposure with her patients, Dr. Young frequently finds herself dispelling seven common myths:
Myth: A base tan is healthy.
Truth: No tan is healthy.
“There is no degree of tanning that can be considered safe,” says Dr. Young. “Both a sunburn and a suntan are the body's response to cellular DNA damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.”
Myth: A base tan will protect you from future sunburn.
Truth: A base tan does little to protect you from future UV exposure and sunburn.
According to the dermatologist, the skin produces melanin, a pigment meant to protect the body from harmful UV radiation.“Essentially a suntan is this melanin trying act as a natural sunscreen,” explains Dr. Young, adding that this is equivalent to a sun protection factor (SPF)—a calculation to denote a degree of protection from a sunburn from UVB sunrays—of 4 or less.
“This is not sufficient to prevent a sunburn and is not protective against carcinogenic UV rays,” she continues.
Myth: Only certain ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are bad for your skin.
Truth: Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are not safe, either.
There are two types of UV rays: UVB (shortwave) and UVA (long-wave). UVB rays cause a sunburn response and can lead to later skin cancer development, whereas UVA rays will not cause a sunburn, notes Dr. Young. However, UVA rays will penetrate deeper into the middle layer of the skin where they are carcinogenic and are responsible for photoaging, such as wrinkles.
Myth: If you have darker skin pigmentation you do not need to protect against the sun.
Truth: All skin types should use sunscreen to protect against the sun.
“Although patients with darker skin have increased melanin offering some added protection from the sun, they are still at risk of developing skin cancers and photoaging,” warns Dr. Young. “The risk of skin cancer is still prevalent and individuals should engage in safe sun protection behaviors.”
Dr. Young says that most skin cancers are often detected at later, more advanced stages in darker-skinned patients because these patients and their doctors are less aware of their sun-related risks.
Myth: SPF doesn’t matter after a certain number.
Truth: Higher SPFs may offer extra protection if too little sunblock is applied.
Dr. Young advises that an effective sunblock should say “broad-spectrum,” which denotes protection from both UVB and UVA rays, and have a minimum of SPF 30. “SPF 30 blocks 97% of harmful UVB rays,” clarifies Dr. Young. “If a thick enough coating of sunblock is used, then a higher SPF will not offer much added protection. However, more recent studies have shown that higher SPFs can offer extra protection if too little sunblock is applied.”
Myth: Sunblock only needs to be applied once on a given day.
Truth: Sunblock should be reapplied every 2 hours and after engaging in water activities.
“Some products rub, wash or sweat off more easily than others,” says Dr. Young. “Don’t be shy and make sure to lather it on. Remember, this is your body’s line of defense to protect areas that aren’t covered by your clothing.”
Myth: Sunblock should only be worn in the summer.
Truth: Sunblock should be worn all year round.
“Whenever there is exposed skin, broad-spectrum sunblock should be worn,” says Dr. Young. UVA rays penetrate through clouds and glass, she adds, so even during the darkest days of the winter, individuals are still exposed to cellular DNA damaging rays. The UV Index, found on most weather forecasts and apps, can inform individuals on the strength of the sun and advise on the necessity of sunblock.
To protect yourself from the sun, Dr. Young recommends regularly applying sunscreen, seeking shade and covering up with hats and sunglasses. She says, “Make sure to take care of your skin—after all, it is the largest organ of your body.”
Dr. Young is located in Paramus. To find a provider near you, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.