The truth about skin cancer: 6 sun myths busted by a doctor
Summer is always a beautiful time of year—and this year it’s going to be even more special. After a tough year of continued Covid-19 breakouts and lockdowns, enjoying time outside with loved ones is going to be high on our holiday wish lists. However, amid all the excitement of being together, it’s easy to forget that having fun in the sun comes with risks, especially if you aren’t protected.
In order to reduce these risks, The Day Ahead spoke with Dr Marc Langbart, Specialist Plastic Surgeon, to debunk some common skin cancer myths and set us up for our safest summer yet.
Myth #1: “I’m not worried about skin cancer because I tan easily. Besides, a good tan protects me from being sun burnt.”
We’ve all heard the phrase “there is nothing safe about a tan” and it’s true. A tan is your body’s response to damage caused by UV radiation—even if there is no redness, peeling or pain. A tan is your body trying to protect itself by making the skin thicker and darker through the deposition of melanin. The protection afforded is minimal and far outweighed by the harmful UV damage required to produce the melanin for a tan. Even if you tan easily, you are at risk of skin cancer.
Myth #2: “I don't need sunscreen because my makeup protects my skin.”
Makeup is not sufficient to protect skin from prolonged sun exposure. Most cosmetics are not designed to protect from UV radiation and do not have a sun protection factor. Some cosmetics, such as foundations and moisturisers, do contain sunscreen. It is important to ensure the SPF (sun protection factor) is high enough—the recommendation is a SPF greater than 30—and that the product is applied with enough volume, and reapplied regularly enough, to provide adequate protection.
Myth #3: “I put on SPF 50+ this morning so I can stay in the sun all day.”
Sunscreen does not provide complete protection from sun damage. SPF 30 filters roughly 96.7% of UV radiation while SPF 50 filters 98%. The skin protection benefit above SPF 50 is marginal.
One of the problems is that most people don't put on enough sunscreen, and don't reapply sunscreen often enough to achieve the quoted protection factor. Even with regular application of sunscreen, if you are in the sun too long you can still cause skin damage and burn.
Myth #4: “I don’t need to wear sunscreen in winter or on cool cloudy days.”
UV rays are present all year round and they cannot be seen or felt. It is UV radiation that causes cellular damage, not the temperature. Short periods of intense sun exposure as well as cumulative sun exposure are associated with skin cancer and ageing. The UV index on a cool cloudy winter’s day can be as high as on a hot summer’s day. This is because UV radiation can travel through or be reflected by clouds, resulting in a higher UV index on a cloudy day compared to clear skies. The message: wear sunscreen every day of the year.
Myth #5: “Skin cancer is not a big deal; it’s easy to treat and not very dangerous.”
More than 2000 Australians die each year from skin cancer. It is important to address any suspicious skin issues early. In addition to being life threatening, skin cancer causes significant disease and other medical issues. Roughly 60% of Australians will develop a skin cancer before the age of 70. The treatment of skin cancer is diverse and may involve topical creams, surgical excision, radiation or various medications, all of which have side effects. Surgery can be disfiguring, radiation can cause long-term tissue damage and medications can cause adverse reactions. A tan is certainly not worth the treatment—or worse.
Myth #6: “I’m too young to worry about skin cancer.”
Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world. This aggressive skin cancer is the deadliest of all types of skin cancer. In Australia, melanoma is the most common form of cancer in adults aged 15-39. It is the third most common cancer in Australian men and women.
Even if you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t develop skin cancer, you will still cause premature ageing, spots and wrinkles from UV exposure. It’s not a pretty picture either way. So, have fun this summer—we know you need it—but please remember to stay protected from the sun.
Shop sun protection here.
About Dr Marc Langbart
Dr Langbart is a specialist plastic surgeon with an interest in skin cancer and head and neck cancer. After gaining a fellowship from the college of surgeons he underwent further fellowship training in microsurgery at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London. He is member of the Head and Neck and well as complex skin multidisciplinary teams at the Prince of Wales and Liverpool hospitals.