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How to stay safe in the sun all year round: Doctor debunks the six biggest skin cancer myths

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A doctor has busted the six biggest skin cancer myths to ensure Australians stay safe in the sun all year round.

Dr Priya Chagan, from Sydney, said there are widespread misconceptions that can lead to serious sun damage, and even a health condition as common as skin cancer.

A research by TAL found more than half of Australians (59 per cent) still acknowledge that they underestimate the prevalence of skin cancer in Australia, so it’s clear there’s still more to do to support people in committing to skin safety.

A doctor has busted the six biggest skin cancer myths to ensure Australians stay safe in the sun all year round (stock image)
A doctor has busted the six biggest skin cancer myths to ensure Australians stay safe in the sun all year round (stock image) Credit: Getty Images

Myth one: Sun damage is only possible on sunny days

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Dr Chagan, TAL’s general manager, Health Services, said damage from UV radiation can happen all seasons of the year, even when it’s cool, cloudy or rainy weather.

“We hear a lot about being sun aware and skin safe when the weather is warm, which is important, but the reality is that skin safety is important all year around,” she said.

“Vigilance shouldn’t become less important when the temperatures begin to drop.”

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Myth two: The higher SPF you apply, the longer you can stay out in the sun

“Higher SPF can often create a false sense of security, leading people to think they can stay out in the sun much longer and even skip reapplying their sunscreen,” Dr Chagan said.

“Regardless of the SPF, sunscreen should not be applied to extend the amount of time you spend in the sun.”

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In fact, she warned sunscreen was not a complete shield from the sun.

“It should not be used as the only line of defence against UV,” she said.

As a general rule, when the UV Index is above three, The Cancer Council recommends protecting yourself in five ways: By slipping on sun protective clothing, slopping on sunscreen, slapping on a broad brim hat, seeking shade when possible and sliding on sunglasses.

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Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before going outdoors so it absorbs into the skin to offer optimal protection.

It should be reapplied immediately after swimming. And, if you are in the sun for longer periods, then it needs to be reapplied every two hours.

Dr Chagan also pointed out the SPF included in cosmetics and moisturisers are not enough to provide adequate sun protection.

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“Unless cosmetics are labelled with SPF30 or higher, then additional sunscreen is needed,” she said.

Dr Priya Chagan (pictured), from Sydney, said there are widespread misconceptions that can lead to serious sun damage, and even a health condition as common as skin cancer
Dr Priya Chagan (pictured), from Sydney, said there are widespread misconceptions that can lead to serious sun damage, and even a health condition as common as skin cancer Credit: Dr Priya Chagan/Supplied

Myth three: People with darker skin can’t get skin cancer

Dr Chagan said there’s a common misconception that people with darker skin or those who have already had sun exposure are less susceptible to the dangerous effects of exposure to the sun’s UV rays.

“Although darker skin, including olive-toned skin, does not burn in the sun as easily as fairer skin, the reality is that any exposure to UV radiation can come with risks,” she said.

“The places on the body where skin cancers tend to occur in people with darker skin are often in less exposed areas such as the soles of the feet, which makes detection more difficult.”

In this case, she said skin cancer is typically diagnosed at a later stage in people with darker skin, which means it is generally more difficult to treat successfully.

Myth four: Sunscreen is the only protection needed to prevent skin cancer

Dr Chagan said the reality is that skin cancer can occur anywhere on the skin, including places that receive little or no sun exposure.

“Prevention isn’t enough on its own. It’s important to self-check your skin and get regular professional skin checks, particularly if you see changes in your skin,” she said.

“As one of the most easily detectable and preventable cancers, it’s so important that these checks become an integral part of everyone’s health routine.”

Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before going outdoors so it absorbs into the skin to offer optimal protection (stock image)
Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before going outdoors so it absorbs into the skin to offer optimal protection (stock image) Credit: Getty Images

Myth five: If you keep an eye on your skin, you don’t need to get professional skin checks

Dr Chagan said getting familiar with how your skin looks and developing a regular habit of checking your skin for new spots and changes is key to early detection.

The research found that despite 92 per cent of Australians saying self-checking is important to them, 60 per cent don’t know how to properly self-check their own body for signs of skin cancer.

When self-checking your skin, it’s important to look out for any sore, changing, abnormal or new spots as these can all be signs of skin cancer.

In addition to regular skin-checks, it’s important to get regular skin checks by a professional, which is a simple process. The doctor will examine your skin, including areas you may not be able to see. It’s quick, easy and could save your life.

Myth six: Unprotected sun exposure is required to avoid vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D is important for bones, muscles and overall health.

However, Dr Chagan warned people shouldn’t sit out in the sun unprotected or deliberately expose themselves to potentially harmful UV with the intention of upping their vitamin D intake.

Research has found that prolonged sun exposure does not cause vitamin D levels to continue to increase.

“Taking a balanced approach to sun exposure will reduce your risk of skin cancer,” she said.

The Cancer Council states that adequate vitamin D levels are reached through regular, incidental exposure to the sun. When the UV Index is three or above (such as during summer), most people maintain adequate vitamin D levels just by spending a few minutes outdoors on most days during the week.

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