8 myths on your skin and the sun

When it comes to tanning, there are a lot of myths doing the rounds. So what is the truth about your skin and the sun?

Myth: I feel so healthy after tanning; surely the sun can't be as bad as everyone makes out?
Truth:Some of the sunniest places on earth, such as Australia, Texas and South Africa, also have the highest incidence of skin cancer.

Myth: Only people with fair skin and blue eyes are at risk.
Truth: New research on the effect of UV-rays gives cause for real concern for both light and darker skinned people. Although people with light or red hair and blue eyes are at higher risk, the incidence of skin cancer is increasing among people with black and brown skins.

Myth:I have been sun-safe the past decade, so I have no risk of developing skin cancer.
Truth: It now appears that sun damage to the skin is cumulative, and damage caused during the first 15 years of life may only become apparent years later.

Myth: I already have a nice tan, so my skin is used to the sun. It won’t damage as easily.
Truth: Benign freckles and sunspots may need only one extra exposure to the sun to become malignant.

Myth: A little sun is good for my baby or toddler.
Truth: Children can suffer skin damage within seven minutes of sun exposure between 11 am and 3 pm.

Myth: Sunbeds and tanning lamps are safe.
Truth: They emit UV-A and are unsafe. UV-A rays can penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, causing damage even before your skin turns red. UV-A rays make skin tough and wrinkled and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Myth: A skin cancer lesion will bleed, be red in appearance and painful. I will be aware of it from the moment the cancer starts.
Truth: Most cancer lesions are not associated with bleeding, scab formation or pain. The changes in a lesion can be very subtle. If one does not watch out for changes, it may go unnoticed for weeks and months, decreasing your chances of survival. Contact your dermatologist if a lesion:
•    Changes colour: from light to dark or white to pale pink
•    Changes shape and size
•    Develops irregular, swollen ridges
•    Peels, heals and peels again
•    Forms an ulcer in the centre and doesn’t heal
•    Suddenly reappears
Myth: There is no need to rush to my doctor when I detect a suspicious lesion.
Truth: Early detection and treatment is vital and can save your life.

The three types of skin cancer and what they mean

1. Basal cell carcinoma

This is the most prevalent type of skin cancer.
It does not usually spread to other organs or parts of the body.
The chance of recovery after an early diagnosis is 95 percent.

2. Squamous cell carcinoma

Easy to cure, provided it is diagnosed at an early stage.
If not diagnosed early, it tends to spread to the lymphatic system and other tissue cells, requiring the removal of lymph glands.

3. Melanoma

About 5 – 10 percent of all skin cancers are melanomas.
It is very aggressive and can spread to other tissue cells at an early stage.
The chances of recovery depend on how deeply the lesion has penetrated the skin. In cases where the penetration is less than 0.75 mm, the chance of recovery is excellent. With a lesion deeper than 4 mm, the chance of surviving ten years or longer is less than 15 percent.

Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in Australia1, which along with New Zealand has the world's highest incidence rate for melanoma.

(Reviewed by Prof HF Jordaan, MBChB, MMed (Derm)


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2012. ACIM (Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality) Books. AIHW: Canberra.

2.    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2012. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2012. Cancer series no. 74. Cat. no. CAN 70. Canberra: AIHW.

3.    http://www.cancer.org.au/


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