Photography by Christian Wheatley for Getty Images

With May rolling on as National Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, City of Hope dermatologist Jae Jung, M.D., Ph.D, addresses some “common knowledge” points about skin cancer that are simply not true. Jung’s top seven skin care myths:

Myth 1:
If you have darker skin, you can’t get sunburned or develop skin cancer.

“People of every skin type get skin cancer,” Jung says. In fact, people with darker skin often delay treatment, ignoring signs that prompt fair skin patients to make an appointment with a dermatologist. Darker-skinned people also are at higher risk for rare melanoma subtypes, including acral (fingers, toes, nails) and mucosal (oral and gentital mucosa), according to Jung.

 

Myth 2:
You can’t get sun-induced damage on a cloudy, overcast day.

Oh yes you can! The sun’s damaging rays reach your skin even on cloudy days. “Up to 80 percent of the UV can penetrate cloud cover and, in some instances where there is haze, UV can increase,” Jung states. We tend to compound the risk on a cloudy day by not seeking shade.

Myth 3:
Tanning beds are safer than lying out in the real sun.

When compared with people who have never tanned indoors, indoor tanners have a higher risk of all forms of skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. “Almost every patient I have seen under the age of 30 with skin cancer has a history of tanning bed use,” notes Jung.

Myth 4:
Skin cancer develops only on parts of the body that are exposed to the sun.

Unfortunately, skin cancer can affect body areas that have had limited or no sun exposure. At City of Hope, the doctors see melanoma—the most deadly form of skin cancer—in the oral and genital mucosa. Other skin cancers, especially HPV-induced squamous cell, also can occur in sun-protected areas.

Myth 5:
If you have no family history of skin cancer, you don’t need to worry.

“Although family history increases your risk, the majority of patients who get skin cancer do not have any family history,” Jung clarifies.

Myth 6:
The best way to get your daily recommended amount of vitamin D is through sun exposure.

While vitamin D is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system, the body cannot distinguish between vitamin D obtained through sun exposure and vitamin D gained through food or an oral supplement. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests getting your vitamin D from supplements, along with food sources such as oily fish, fortified dairy products and cereals.

Myth 7:
Only elderly people get skin cancer.

More and more young people are being diagnosed with skin cancer, especially melanoma. Jung has treated patients as young as 14 with melanoma and patients in their 20s for basal cancer. She recommends seeking a dermatologist’s evaluation for any mole that is changing in size, shape or color or any sore that does not heal in four weeks. If you have the skin cancer cut out while it is small, the rate of cure is high, Jung says. As it becomes larger, you’re more likely to have disfiguring scars from the excision, and the risks of spreading increase.