Myth: “A base tan protects you.”
It’s a dermatologist mantra: There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. A. Safe. Tan. “A tan is literally your body’s response to being injured by UV exposure,” says Darrell Rigel, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. When your cells are exposed to UV light, they produce more melanin, the pigment that colors your skin, which is why you tan. But this is a sign that damage has already been done, not protection against future sun exposure. In fact, a “base tan” provides the SPF equivalent of about a 4, says Steve Rotter, MD, a dermatologic surgeon in Virginia. (As a comparison, a white T-shirt gives you more coverage—about an SPF 7).
Myth: “80 percent of sun damage occurs before age 18, so the injury is already done.”
The latest thinking shows that you get closer to just 25 percent of total sun exposure by age 18—that 80 percent figure is outdated and inaccurate. Further, experts say revamping your sun habits at any age is a smart move. “It’s the same as smoking cigarettes—no matter how much damage you’ve done, it’s always good to stop,” says Rigel. While it’s true that melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is more closely linked to childhood sunburns, “it’s cumulative sun exposure that’s associated with other skin cancers, not to mention wrinkles, thinning skin, dark spots, and ‘broken’ capillary veins on the skin,” says Jessica Wu, MD, Los Angeles dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC School of Medicine. Here are more sunscreen dos and don’ts you should know this summer.