Myths about sun exposure and sunburn


As the weather grows warmer and more people spend longer periods of time outside in the sun, it’s important to understand the dangers of sun exposure.

“Ultraviolet radiation is a known carcinogen, which means, similar to cigarette smoking, it can cause lasting damage to the body,” said Dr. Holly Kanavy, assistant professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of pharmacology at Montefiore Health System.

Kanavy discussed five myths people often believe about sun damage:

Myth 1: Some people believe they only need to protect themselves from the sun during peak hours. Although extra precautions should be taken between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., people are susceptible to damage from the sun anytime it’s out.

Myth 2: Some people think if children do not get burned, they must be wearing enough sunblock. However, young children are particularly susceptible to sun damage and should wear and reapply SPF 30 or higher sunblock. Hats and sunglasses as well as clothing are also helpful, but wet clothes don’t offer much protection from the sun.

Myth 3: Some individuals think sun exposure is required to obtain vitamin D. In truth, it only takes 10-15 minutes of sun exposure several times per week. Some people do not wear sunscreen because they’re trying to get vitamin D. However, that isn’t necessary because it takes sunscreen about 20 minutes to start working, and people can get their vitamin D intake during that time. Also, the vitamin can be acquired through certain foods.

Myth 4: Some people believe that the only important factor to look for in sunscreen is the SPF. However, people should make sure their sunblock protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays age the skin and can cause skin cancer. To make sure a sunblock protects against both kinds of rays, look for the words “broad spectrum” and ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide.

Myth 5: Some people think sun protection is unnecessary indoors or on cold days. However, temperature doesn’t affect radiation, and UVA rays can go through clouds and glass. UVA rays don’t cause tanning, but can cause damage.

Kanavy also recommended steps to take after getting sunburn.

“Immediately after a burn, take a cool shower and keep the burn moisturized,” he said. “Ingredients like vitamin C and vitamin E can help control damage.”

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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