Skin Cancer - Myths and Facts

Young woman who forgot the sun tan lotion

What is fact and what is myth of the 9 following statements?

  1. I only need to get checked for skin cancer if I see something weird on myself.    False. While it is true that self-examination is important, but anyone with a personal or family history of skin cancer should be seen by a dermatologist for a full skin exam at least once a year.
  2. You can't get skin cancer on a part of the body that doesn't ever see the sun.  False.  While it is true that basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma occur in areas that received sun exposure, melanoma (the life-threatening skin cancer) can occur anywhere on the body.  It is very hard to see one's own scalp, back and buttocks to see if anything new is there, so get checked.
  3. Dark skinned people aren't at risk for skin cancer.  False.  My favorite example here is Bob Marley.  Bob Marley died because of a melanoma on his foot.  In fact skin cancer can be deadlier in dark skin people because it is often detected at a later stage.
  4. People who freckle are more susceptible to skin cancer.  True.  Freckles are a sign of previous sun exposure, and they are an indication of sun damage.  Freckles are more common in fair-skinned people, who have an increased risk of skin cancer.
  5. The SPF in my foundation is enough protection.  True and false.  For everyday exposure in Portland Oregon in the winter, makeup with sunscreen (15 or higher) can provide adequate protection.  However, your makeup should not  be used as a substitute for sunscreen if you are going to be spending extended time outdoors.  For those times, look for a  broad spectrum sunscreen over 30.  You know you are doing a good job if you get absolutely ZERO TAN.  Browning of the skin is a sign of sun damage.  There is no "good" tan, not even a so-called base tan is good for you.  Our favorite sunscreen at Klein Dermatology & Associates is the EltaMD brand that contains zinc.  The EltaMD UV Clear is specially designed for acne and rosacea skin types.
  6. Skin cancer looks like a weird mole.  True and False.  While melanoma skin cancer sometimes looks like a weird mole (and not all weird looking moles are necessarily cancer), the most common types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) can appear as a pink bump or patch or sore or pimple that won't heal.  The key is to seek a dermatologist's opinion as soon as you see anything on your body that looks new or suspicious.
  7. I need to get my Vitamin D, so I expose my skin to as much sun as I can.  Bad idea.  It's best to obtain vitamin D through diet and vitamin supplements.  The harmful effects of sun exposure far outweigh any vitamin D benefits.   With the new Vitamin D serum levels advised you can't get enough through the sun alone.  Dermatologists did a study and found that young Hawaiian surfers out in the sun all day unprotected still didn't manufacture enough vitamin D in their blood to meet the current recommended levels.
  8. People who burn easily are more susceptible to skin cancer.  True.  Fair-skinned people who burn easily are very susceptible to skin damage, skin cancer, and early aging of the skin.  Sun exposure increases a persons risk of all three of the most common skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
  9. Putting your sunscreen on as soon as you arrive at the beach or golf course is best.  True and False.  You must know what the active ingredient is in your sunscreen to know when you should be applying it.   The mineral sunscreens also known as barrier sunscreens that contain zinc (like EltaMD) or titanium start blocking UV rays as soon as you apply it to your skin.  The chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate and octinoxate require a reaction to take place with your skin cells which takes approximately 30 minutes before they start working.  So if you are a redhead, and wait until you are on the beach on a sunny day to apply your Neutragena....by the time your sunscreen begins working you would already be burned.  People generally can do a better job of applying their sunscreen before they get dressed, while still indoors.  Too often people don't get close enough to the places the clothing starts and stops and those strips of skin will burn.  Remember no matter what the SPF is (30 or higher is preferred) it will still only last 3-4 hours.  Re-applying sunscreen when you are out all day is very important.  Using clothing with SPF in it, makes this job easier.  Be safe in the sun, and if you are golfing remember to re-apply between the 9th and 10th holes.