Five myths about sun protection

24 June, 2016 - Campbell River, B.C.

Article submitted by Kevin Sauve, BC Cancer Agency

As the days grow longer, sleeves inevitably grow shorter. Warmth and sunshine can make us feel great, but ultraviolet radiation can also cause skin cancer. Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells, and it’s the most prevalent form of all cancers in Canada.

“The good news is there are plenty of ways you can protect yourself,” says Dr. Harvey Lui, a dermatologist at the BC Cancer Agency. “The bad news is that there are quite a few misconceptions about sun protection that prevent people from taking necessary precautions.”

Here are five popular myths about sun protection, along with some simple things you can do to keep your skin out of trouble.

Myth #1 Chemicals in sunscreen cause cancer

You may have heard rumours that sunscreen can actually cause cancer or other health problems. In particular, some media has reported concern with ingredients oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen, and retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A stored by the skin.

“There is no evidence that approved sunscreens cause cancer or other health problems. If there is a seal of approval from the Canadian Dermatology Association on the bottle, the product is safe,” insists Dr. Lui.

Myth #2 It doesn’t matter how you apply your sunscreen

According to Dr. Lui’s research, most people only apply about one-third to half of the amount that they need, leaving lots of skin exposed to dangerous UV radiation. You need about one ounce (a shot glass) of sunscreen to cover your entire body.

Myth #3 SPF 30 is enough

“In theory, SPF 30 is enough,” Dr. Lui says. “But in practice most people do not apply enough sunscreen to begin with. To increase your safe margin of error when applying sunscreen, choose a higher SPF — this is especially true for people with fair or sensitive skin.”

Myth #4 Temperature is an indication of risk

“Many people think that if it’s cold, sunscreen is pointless,” cautions Dr. Lui. “The truth is, there is a much lower risk for most people on cloudy and rainy days, but if you can see the sun there’s a risk. If it’s bright outside, apply sunscreen to any exposed skin.”

Myth #5 Baseball caps provide protection

According to Dr. Lui, cowboys had it right: wide brimmed hats are best for sun protection. A good general rule for hats: the brim should be at least the width of the palm of your hand, and cover the full circumference of your head.