Skin Cancer Myths vs. Facts

Have you heard any of these common myths about sun exposure, tanning, and vitamin D? The Skin Cancer Foundation looks at the facts behind the fiction.

Click on the myths below to read the truth

    • > MYTH: Eighty percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18, so if I’m older, it doesn’t matter how much sun I get.

      FACT: Actually, only about 23 percent of lifetime exposure occurs by age 18. You can — and should — help prevent sun damage at every age by following The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Prevention Guidelines.


    • > MYTH: Tanning at a salon is safer than tanning outdoors — it’s a controlled dose of UV radiation.

      FACT: When compared to people who have never tanned indoors, indoor tanners have a higher risk of all forms of skin cancer. A controlled dose of tanning lamp radiation is a high dose: Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual ultraviolet A (UVA) dose they receive from sun exposure. Learn about the risks associated with indoor tanning.


    • > MYTH: Some ingredients in sunscreen can cause cancer.

      FACT: Current research shows that when used as directed, sunscreens are safe and effective. The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection program.


    • > MYTH: The Sun is the best way to get vitamin D.

      FACT: Our bodies can produce some vitamin D following exposure to the Sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. However, after a limited amount of sun exposure (approximately five minutes daily for a Caucasian in New York at 12 PM in summer), vitamin D production reaches its maximum. Further UV exposure will actually break down vitamin D to inactive compounds! Furthermore, sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer and accelerated skin aging. The safest way to obtain vitamin D is through diet and supplements.


    • > MYTH: You can’t get sun damage on a cloudy day.

      FACT: Just because you can’t see your shadow doesn’t mean you’re safe from the sun’s damaging rays. Believe it or not, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate through clouds and fog. Learn how UV radiation affects your skin.


    • > MYTH: A “base tan” protects your skin from sunburn.

      FACT: There is no such thing as a safe or protective tan; any tan at all is a sign of skin damage. Skin tans in response to UV damage to the skin’s DNA; a tan is the skin’s attempt to repair sun damage and prevent further injury. But these imperfect repairs can cause gene defects that can lead to skin cancer.


    • > MYTH: I use a sunscreen with an SPF of 50, so I’m all set.

      FACT: A sunscreen’s SPF (sun protection factor) indicates that it protects against UVB rays, but you need protection from both UVB and UVA. For effective protection, apply a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen in addition to following our Guidelines. Learn more about sunscreen.


    • > MYTH: People of color don’t get skin cancer.

      FACT: People of color are less likely to develop skin cancer than Caucasians, but they have a higher risk of dying from it. A very dangerous and fast-spreading skin cancer known as acral lentiginous melanoma is more common among darker-skinned people and may appear as a suspicious growth in the mucous membranes, under the nails, or on the palms or soles of the feet. Whatever your skin color, protect yourself, perform regular skin self-exams, and obtain a professional full-body skin exam every year.