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New research finds that while many people say sun protection is important to them, misconceptions about tanning and sun exposure are still quite common. Kelly Knox/Stocksy
  • Skin cancer is a very common, but preventable cancer.
  • However, a new survey reveals that many people don’t do as good a job of protecting themselves as they think.
  • Misconceptions about tanning are still quite common as well.
  • Experts say it is important to protect your skin in order to prevent cancer and premature aging.

Statistics from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) indicate that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.

In fact, it is estimated that 20 percent of Americans will have skin cancer at some point in their lives.

They further note that about 9,500 people are diagnosed with this type of cancer each day.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, sunlamps, or tanning beds.

UV rays can damage the skin, often in the form of a sunburn. As damage accumulates over time, people may experience premature aging or even develop skin cancer.

It can also lead to cataracts, a condition in which the vision can become cloudy and blurry.

However, a new survey that was just released by the AAD reveals that many Americans are still confused about the risks associated with tanning.

One important finding that came out of the survey is that people think they are doing a much better job at protecting themselves than they really are.

When the AAD surveyed over 1,000 American adults, the survey participants gave themselves high marks on sun protection, with most stating that it was more important to them than it was five years ago.

Sixty-two percent of respondents gave themselves a grade of “excellent” for sun protection in 2021.

Sixty-three percent said they had gotten a tan — an increase of 9 percentage points since 2020.

In addition, one-third of respondents said they had gotten a sunburn, which represents an increase of 8 percentage points since 2020.

However, Dr. Mark D. Kaufmann, president of the AAD, said if you are getting a tan, you are not doing a good job of protecting yourself.

“There is no such thing as a safe tan,” he explained. “Every time you tan or burn, you are also damaging the DNA in your skin.”

The survey also found several misconceptions and problems when it came to proper sunscreen use.

Sixty-seven percent of survey takers mistakenly thought that SPF 30 sunscreen gives twice as much protection as SPF 15.

In reality, the SPF (sun protection factor) is not linear. SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UV rays while SPF 30 blocks 97 percent – an increase of only 4 percent more protection.

Forty-three percent of people also said they did not know that shade can protect against UV rays.

Additionally, 65 percent said they often forgot to reapply sunscreen.

Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, a board-certified dermatologist, said there are several myths when it comes to tanning.

First of all, there is the belief that tanning is necessary in order to get vitamin D.

Houshmand says there is no reason to put yourself at risk for skin cancer and accelerated aging in order to get sufficient vitamin D.

“Proper vitamin D levels can be accomplished through proper diet and supplementation without harming the skin,” she explained.

Houshmand also discussed the common misconception that people with dark skin don’t need sun protection.

“Darker-skinned people can still develop skin cancer and experience photoaging (premature aging of the skin caused by repeated sun exposure),” said Houshmand. “A tan, in all skin colors, indicates damage to your skin and the damage leads to skin cancer and aging.”

Houshmand further noted that many believe that only UVB rays are harmful. While UVB is the type associated with sunburns and skin cancer, UVA is also harmful in that it is linked to aging and wrinkling, she explained.

Lastly, she examined the idea that it’s safe to get a pretan in a tanning bed, citing statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

“Ten or more uses of a tanning bed will increase the risk of melanoma by 34 percent,” she said. “People who use a tanning bed before the age of 35 increase their risk by 75 percent.”

Dr. Lawrence J. Green, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine, recommends wearing clothing and hats as much as possible and using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen on any skin that is exposed.

“If you are in the water for a while or sweating, reapply every few hours,” said Green. “Stay under a sun umbrella when you can so you are not directly in the sun.”

Green further suggests using cream or lotion sunscreens rather than sprays.

“When you use a spray, much of it goes in the air and not on the skin,” he explained, “so you have less protection than you think.”

They can also leave you with uneven protection if you don’t rub them completely in.

Dr. Susan Massick, a board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says that sun avoidance, especially between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., is the best way to protect yourself.

However, she added that, “Sunscreens are an easy, convenient, and effective way to protect your skin from the sun.”

She recommends applying them 20 minutes before you go out for the best results.

“Apply liberally — don’t be stingy — the equivalent amount of one to two Ping-Pong balls on sun-exposed areas,” she said. “Don’t forget about sensitive areas, like your face, ears, back of the neck, and tops of feet, or hard-to-reach places like your back.”

She further suggests that it’s a good idea to buy sunscreen every season since they do expire.

Massick also points to UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing and rash guard swimsuits as a good way to protect yourself.

UPF 50 clothing can block 98 percent of the sun’s harmful radiation, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Finally, she advises wearing full-coverage hats and investing in a high-quality pair of sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.