9 Skin Cancer Myths That Need to End

Sunscreen doesn't prevent skin cancer. Dark-skinned people aren't at risk. Skin cancer only happens to older people. We've all heard these skin cancer myths before, but, like most myths, they're too good to be true. In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, let's finally put these antiquated and oh-so-misleading myths to bed. Here are 9 skin cancer myths that need to end:

  1. Skin Cancer Only Affects Older Adults: Despite what most people think, teens and young adults are not invincible to skin cancer. In fact, melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, is the most common form of cancer in young adults, ages 25 to 29. It's also the second most common form of cancer for 15- to 29-year-olds, affecting more women than men in this age group. However, the good news is that melanoma is highly curable for men and women ages 10 to 39 years old, who have a five-year survival rate exceeding 90 percent.
  2. Dark-Skinned People Don't Get Cancer: A common myth that needs to end is that dark-skinned people cannot get skin cancer. People of all colors and ethnicities are at risk for developing skin cancer and should take the same precautions to prevent dangerous sun damage. Even though dark-skinned individuals have more skin pigmentation which accounts for a natural SPF of about 13, they aren't out of harm's way. Although melanoma is uncommon in people of color, it is often fatal for most. In fact, African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in the later stages of the disease when it's more deadly.
  3. Skin Cancer Isn't as Dangerous as Other Cancers: Wrong again! The truth is that skin cancer is just as dangerous, if not more, than other cancers. Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer and it affects more than 2 million people every year in the U.S. It also takes the lives of 11,790 people each year. The good thing is that with proper preventative measures and early detection, skin cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable types of cancer.
  4. A Sunburn is More Damaging Than a Suntan: Despite what most people think, a sunburn and a suntan are equally bad for your skin. The "healthy glow" of a suntan and the raw, red effect of a sunburn are both damaging to your skin and significantly increase your chances of developing skin cancer. In fact, a person's risk for developing melanoma doubles if they've had five or more sunburns or had excessive sun exposure during their lifetime.
  5. Tanning Beds are Safer than Regular Sunlight: Tanning beds are anything but safer than regular sunlight. Any exposure to radiation, whether real or artificial, is unsafe. The ultraviolet radiation that's emitted from tanning beds poses a major risk for those who bake in them. Tanning beds use both UVA and UVB radiation lamps, which cause skin damage and may lead to skin cancer. Tanning beds and UV equipment are also poorly regulated and may emit more radiation than intended. It may seem like a short time spent in a tanning bed is safer than laying out for hours, but both of these options are dangerous for your skin and could significantly increase your chances of developing skin cancer.
  6. Skin Cancer is a Natural Part of Aging and Can't be Prevented: This myth couldn't be more wrong. First of all, skin cancer is not a natural part of aging and is largely preventable when daily sun protection is used. Approximately 90 percent of the visible signs of aging are caused by the sun. Wrinkles, brown spots and leathery skin are signs of photoaging and overexposure to the sun. Even though most skin damage occurs during childhood or adolescence and the risk of developing skin cancer increases with age, there is never a bad time to start protecting your skin and repairing the signs of sun damage.
  7. You Can't Get Skin Cancer Underneath a Swimsuit: Skin cancer can happen where the sun don't shine, especially underneath your swimsuit! Although clothing creates a good barrier between your skin and the sun, it isn't foolproof. The sun's harmful ultraviolet rays can penetrate through certain fabrics and wet or worn-out clothing. Skin cancer can also happen in areas that rarely see the sun, such as these unusual places: scalp, fingernails and toenails, in-between toes, on palms, on the soles of feet, behind the ears and even around genitalia. Be sure to take preventative measures to avoid excessive sun exposure and always examine your skin for any new or unusual spots.
  8. Your Can't Get Sunburned on a Cloudy Day: Don't be fooled by the clouds in the sky – sunburns and harmful sun damage can occur on cloudy days. Roughly 40 percent of the sun's UV rays can reach you on a cloudy day and cause long-term damage and potentially skin cancer. In fact, this myth often leads to the most serious sunburns because people forgo wearing sunscreen.
  9. People Who Tan Easily and Rarely Burn Won't Get Skin Cancer: Just because a person tans easily and rarely burns doesn't mean they aren't at risk for developing skin cancer. We know that there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of skin cancer, such as fair skin, multiple or atypical moles, severe sunburns as a child, excessive sun exposure and a family history of skin cancer, but just because you don't fall into one of these at-risk groups doesn't mean you can't develop sun damage or skin cancer. Skin cancer can and does affect people of all skin colors, ethnicities and ages, so don't rely on a free pass.