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Busted! Taking Sun Safety Myths to Task

What better time to bust some of the most common sun safety myths than Sun Awareness Week? A new survey by the Canadian Dermatology Association shares the good news that 92% of respondents said that it is essential to protect their skin from the sun. The bad news? Some popular misconceptions are preventing Canadians from effectively protecting themselves. Here are a few that we see online or hear in our office most often.

Myth: Don’t bother with an SPF higher than 30.

Fact: You should use a broad spectrum sunscreen (applied properly) of at least SPF 30 for daily use and at least SPF 50 for days when you intend to spend time in the sun. But if you apply SPF 30 and only apply a quarter of the required amount (and this is really common) you will only be getting a quarter of the SPF protection. That’s why choosing an even higher SPF is going to give you better protection. Think you’re applying enough? The American Academy of Dermatology recommends at least one ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover exposed skin. It’s more than you think!

Myth: Getting vitamin D from sun exposure is more important than sunscreen.

Fact: We all know that vitamin D is important for healthy bones and teeth. One of the ways we get vitamin D is by exposure to natural sunlight; but for most patients a very small amount (e.g. to the back of the hands for 5 minutes 3x/week) is enough. More importantly, we do not need to rely on UV exposure when vitamin D supplementation has been shown to be a safe and effective way to maintain healthy levels, especially when we know that UV exposure is dangerous and predisposes us to sunburn, skin cancer and photoaging.

Myth: Sunscreen itself might be harmful.

Fact: Sunscreens (mineral and chemical) have been used for decades by huge proportions of the population. While there are no signals that sunscreens pose any safety concern in people, we know with certainty that UV exposure is dangerous, which is why it is important to protect yourself. For those patients who still have their own concerns about the use of chemical-based sunscreens, we are fortunate to have the choice of several different mineral-based formulations (containing zinc and titanium) that are both highly effective and now cosmetically elegant.

Myth: If I wear sunscreen I can spend as much time in the sun as I want.

I said in a recent blog post: sunscreen is an insurance policy. It is a safeguard but it is by no means a license to lie in the sun. In addition to applying and re-applying sunscreen, it is important to remember to: choose shade; avoid the sun when it is strongest (between 10am and 3pm); and wear sun-protective gear like long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats – like the fashionable ones worn here by Drs. Jean and Alastair Carruthers in Venice, Italy!

Did we miss any sun safety myths? Let us know in the comments below or tweet me at @humphreyderm using #sunawarenessweek !

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