With the dog days of summer now upon us, it’s likely that many will spend days frolicking in the pool or heading to the beach to keep cool and beat the heat. If you and your family are heading for the out-of-doors this summer, here are a few myths (followed by the facts) about exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light that you should keep in mind:
Myth No. 1: You don’t need to apply sunscreen on an overcast day.
Fact: Even on windy, cool and cloudy days, your skin can be damaged by sun exposure. That’s because sun damage is caused by UV radiation, not temperature, so even a cooler, overcast summer day can have UV levels similar to a bright, sunny day. The American Cancer Society recommends applying a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen of at least SPF (sun protection factor) 30 or higher.
Myth No. 2: SPF 30 is all the protection you need as anything higher is unnecessary.
Fact: According to the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, if you don’t apply enough sunscreen (1 oz. for your body and 1 tablespoon for your face) or you apply your sunscreen incorrectly, it may result in a lower SPF than the labeled protection level. For instance, if you under-apply your SPF 30 sunscreen by half, you may only get the protection level of an SPF 15 or lower. In this case, higher SPF sunscreens can help compensate for the fact that people usually do not apply enough. In addition, higher SPF sunscreens provide additional sunburn protection under extreme UV conditions. When you participate in moderate outdoor activities such as jogging or are outside on a very hot day, the heat from your activity and surroundings can increase the sensitivity of your skin, and higher SPF protection is needed to prevent acute sunburn.
Myth No. 3: People with darker skin tones are naturally protected from sun exposure and don’t need to worry about applying sunscreen.
Fact: While it’s true that dark skin does offer more natural protection from the sun’s harmful rays than light skin, no one is immune to damage caused by the sun. This is a common misconception that dermatologists are working hard to clear up. When working or playing outdoors during the peak exposure hours, everyone—regardless of skin color—should use an SPF 30 sunscreen or higher.
Myth No. 4: Getting a “base tan” will protect me from a sunburn.
Fact: Study after study has shown that soaking up the rays to get a “base tan” won’t protect you against future UV exposure. In fact, the U.S. surgeon general has warned that a “base tan” provides only an SPF of 3 or less, and that getting that “base tan” could put sunbathers at further risk of developing skin cancers. If you’re going to be in the sun, apply sunscreen.
Myth No. 5: Sun exposure is a healthy source of Vitamin D so I don’t want to blunt the effects by using sunscreen.
Fact: It’s true that we all need Vitamin D. It boosts our immune systems and helps keep our bones healthy and strong. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it manufactures Vitamin D. However, studies have never concluded that sunscreen use leads to deficiencies of this important vitamin. In fact, it is possible to still get enough sun exposure to maintain Vitamin D levels while wearing sunscreen. The price of prolonged sun exposure far outweighs any perceived advantages. And if you prefer to further limit your sun exposure, consume foods high in Vitamin D—such as salmon, mackerel and tuna—while also taking a supplement.