Common Misperceptions

There are a number of common myths and misperceptions about skin health and skin cancer. Here are just a few:

Myth: Only people with fair skin get skin cancer.
The truth is that skin cancer can affect anyone of any skin tone or color. While it’s true that people with fair skin have a higher risk of developing skin cancer, the most common cause of skin cancer -- ultraviolet (UV) rays -- can damage skin of any color. In fact, because skin cancer can sometimes be more difficult to recognize in people with darker skin, it may not be diagnosed until a later stage, which can make it more difficult to treat.

Myth: Using sunscreen is enough to protect skin against UV rays.
Sunscreen is one way to help protect your skin, but no sunscreen is 100 percent effective at blocking UV rays. In addition, if sunscreen is used incorrectly, it may not provide as much protection as you need. In addition to using sunscreen, it’s a good idea to reduce UV exposure by seeking shade and wearing protective clothing to cover your arms and legs, a hat to protect the skin on your head and neck, and sunglasses to protect your eyes and the delicate skin around them.

Myth: A base tan is healthy.
Actually, there’s no such thing as a healthy or safe tan. Tanned skin is damaged skin. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a “base tan” will protect your skin against harmful UV rays. Having a base tan provides a sun protection factor (SPF) less than 3, which is inadequate to protect against damage from the sun’s rays.

Myth: Skin cancers aren’t deadly.
Although there is a high survival rate when melanoma and other skin cancers are diagnosed early, they are still deadly cancers. The survival rate when melanoma has spread to nearby tissues drops below 65 percent. When melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, the survival rate is less than 25 percent.

Myth: It’s impossible to get enough vitamin D without exposure to the sun.
The skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight, and vitamin D is indeed very important for bone and immune system health. However, it’s possible to meet your body’s need for vitamin D through food and dietary supplements without risking overexposure to UV radiation. Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, fortified milk, ready-to-eat cereals, fortified orange juice and yogurt, cheese, and egg yolks.

Myth: Using an indoor tanning bed is safer than tanning in the sun.
Sunlight can be harmful because it exposes the skin to UV radiation, but tanning beds also use lights containing UV rays. Exposing the skin to UV rays, no matter the source, increases the risk for skin cancer, and the use of tanning beds is a known risk factor for developing skin cancer.

Myth: Sunscreen is poisonous.
It’s not. There are no published studies showing that sunscreen is toxic to humans or hazardous to human health. Some people have concerns that certain sunscreen ingredients, such as oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, are not safe for humans. But both of these ingredients have been approved for use in sunscreen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There is no data suggesting that these ingredients, as used in sunscreen, are harmful. Another common concern is sunscreen that contains nanoparticle-sized ingredients, which some people claim can be absorbed through the skin. This is not true. The outermost layer of skin prevents even nanoparticles from entering into the deeper layers of skin.