6 Skin Cancer Myths

Do you know how much protection is enough to keep you safe from the sun?. Cherayut/Shutterstock

It's hard to avoid the allure of that big orange ball in the sky. Warm, sunny days just call for time outdoors, whether that means a walk on the beach or just sipping something frosty on the back deck. But those warm rays can do some serious damage, especially if you don't take precautions.

Here are some common (and potentially dangerous) misconceptions about the sun and skin cancer. See if you're doing all you can to stay safe in the sun.

You don't need to worry about the sun if you're not outside much.

You don't have to be a lifeguard or camp counselor to be concerned about the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. Brief exposure from the car's sun roof or walking around in an outdoor mall all add up — especially when they occur during peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"These cumulative, everyday exposures are linked to squamous cell cancer," points out the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. "Though not as dangerous as melanoma, squamous cell cancer is believed to cause up to 20 percent of skin cancer deaths. Limiting sun exposure is an important measure to take as both direct and indirect UV rays damage the skin and can lead to skin cancer. Window film provides protection by limiting harmful UV rays whether at home, work or on the road."

If you tan easily, you don't have to worry about skin cancer.

You've probably heard that a tan is healthy and people who don't burn don't get skin cancer. All wrong.

"A tan does not indicate good health," says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "A tan is a response to injury, because skin cells signal that they have been hurt by UV rays by producing more pigment."

People with fair skin tend to burn more easily, but that doesn't mean people who tan more easily are without risk. Everyone's skin can be damaged by UV exposure.

woman putting on sunscreen in winter
The sun's harmful UV rays can be reflected by the snow. plprod/Shutterstock

You don't need sunscreen in winter or on a cloudy day.

Most people know to slather on sunscreen at the beach or when they're out in the middle of a sunny, summer day. But do you pull out the sunblock when it's cloudy or hazy or in any other season?

You really should use sunscreen year-round, says the American Academy of Dermatology, pointing out that the sun emits harmful UV rays all the time. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate your skin.

Using an indoor tanning bed is safe.

Just because you're getting fake sun, doesn't mean you're getting fake UV rays. Tanning beds use lights that send out UV rays too, and those indoor rays are just as harmful to your skin as the ones that come directly from the sun.

"The truth is there is no 'safe' way to get a tan when UV light is used," says the American Cancer Society. "Exposing your skin to this type of light, no matter the source, can increase your chances of facing skin cancer."

little girl with big sunglasses in the sun
A lifetime of sun exposure increases the risk of sun damage as an adult. vvita/Shutterstock

Tanning as a child protects you from skin cancer as you age.

Whether you drenched yourself in baby oil as a teen or your mom just wasn't as vigilant with sunscreen as today's generation of parents, getting a tan as a young person doesn't help protect your skin as you become an adult.

"This is one of the biggest skin cancer myths there is," general pediatrician Andrette Ward, M.D. of White Memorial Community Health Center tells Reader's Digest. Many people believe that large amounts of early sun exposure desensitizes children to skin cancer and sun damage when they grow up. In actuality, the opposite is true," says Ward.

Instead, getting a lot of sun exposure when you're young adds to your risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

Using sunscreen is all you need as protection from the sun's rays.

Sunscreen is a key line of defense against the sun and the AAD recommends that everyone wear sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection (against UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of 30 or higher that is also water resistant. But most people only apply 25 to 50 percent of the sunscreen they need to get adequate protection. (Dermatologists suggest that you need an ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass, to cover your whole body.) And it's key to reapply about every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

But even applied correctly, sunscreen isn't enough. It's still important to stay in the shade when you can, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and to wear protective clothing, like sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants.

Got all that? Now cover up, get out there (in the shade) and have a good time.