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Healthy Balance

Sun Safety: 8 Myths About Skin Cancer Debunked

With UVA dermatologist Mark Russell, MD

Mark Russell, MD

Myth #1: Skin cancer only affects people with light or fair skin.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Although more common in those with a fair complexion, it does not discriminate against skin color, race, age or any other demographics.

Myth #2: You can’t get skin cancer where the sun doesn’t shine.
Although skin cancer usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of the skin, it can appear anywhere on the body including the scalp, palms, soles, and under toenails and fingernails.

Myth #3: You can wait until you’re outside to apply sunscreen.
Actually, it takes at least 30 minutes for sunscreen to start working. It’s best to apply it ahead of time.

Myth #4: Skin heals quickly, so childhood sunburns won’t impact you later in life. 
Believe it or not, sunburns add up and lead to skin damage, cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions and wrinkles, and it can take years for you to notice the impact on your skin. However, you can slow the damage by starting to take care of your skin now and preventing future burns. You can also be proactive and attend regular screenings so you can catch skin cancer early, if it does present itself.

Myth #5: All skin cancer looks the same.
Skin Cancer PreventionSkin cancer may appear as a changing mole, bleeding spot, recurring sore, red patch, firm spot, new “scar” or a combination of these.

Myth #6: DIY (or Do it Yourself) sunscreen works just as well as over the counter brands.
Homemade sunscreen is not a viable method for sun protection because regardless of the ingredients used, there is not an official way to guarantee its effectiveness or determine the exact SPF.

Myth #7: The higher the SPF, the less frequently sunscreen needs to be applied.
Because sunscreen breaks down over time and can be removed with water and sweat, it needs to be reapplied at least every two hours.

Myth #8: Cancer screening is only for people who have had skin cancer or have a family history of cancer.
Skin cancer screening is important for everyone, especially those who have a fair complexion, family history of skin cancer, work outdoors or spend leisure time in the sun. Anyone with repeat sunburns or excessive sun exposure can be at risk and should attend regular screenings.

Did you know?

UVA offers a free skin cancer screening for the community each May. This year’s screening, led by Mark Russell, MD and Kenny Greer, MD, resulted in 60 referrals to dermatology for suspected skin cancer out of the 225 patients who were seen.

Concerned about skin cancer?

Make an appointment with a UVA dermatologist by calling 434.924.5115 or use the online appointment form.

Best ways to reduce sun exposure:

  • Use sunscreen (apply correctly and reapply at least every two hours while in the sun)
  • Wear lip balm with sunscreen
  • Wear protective clothing and accessories (broad-brimmed hats, long sleeve shirts and sunglasses)
  • Avoiding the sun from the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Seek shade whenever possible
  • Avoid tanning beds

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