Base Tans Don't Work: 18 Tanning Myths Debunked

by Stefani Pappas

May is Melanoma Awareness Month, a movement dedicated to raising awareness of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

The American Academy of Dermatology also urges us to conduct self-exams for early detection of melanoma.

Memorial Day is coming up, and we all want to look good for beach season.

But, what is the cost of your sun-kissed glow? Is tanning really so bad for you?

Let's sort through the myths and help settle this tanning debate:

1. Tanning at a salon is safer than in the sun.

Even though there is a controlled dose of tanning lamp radiation when you use the beds, it is a very high dose.

You might be getting as much as 12 times the UVA ray annual dose in the bed than in the sun.

2. Ingredients in sunscreen cause cancer, don't they?

Recent research has shown sunscreens are overall safe and effective to use.

3. A cotton t-shirt will help protect me from the sun.

Cotton t-shirts are the equivalent of SPF 6 — yikes! When you wear your t-shirt wet, it's the equivalent of as low as SPF 3. Regardless, apply sunscreen to ensure full protection.

4. When it's cloudy, I don't have to wear sunscreen.

Clouds only filter 20 percent of UV rays. Even though it might not look like it's beaming outside, you should still be mindful that 80 percent of the rays are penetrating your skin.

5. A base tan can help protect me from sunburns.

Any tan is a sign of skin damage. There is no such thing as a safe or protective tan.

6. I use SPF 50, so I'm good.

Make sure you look for broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen to help protect against both rays.

A sunscreen's SPF may only protect against UVB rays, so make sure to buy broad spectrum when you can.

7. I can't get sunburned in the car or inside my house.

Glass can block most UVB rays, but UVA radiation can get through. No one likes a one-sided body tan, so put on some sunscreen.

8. I need enough sunlight to get vitamin D.

Vitamin D is very important, but there are other ways to get it. Fortified foods with Vitamin D, like milk, or even a Vitamin D supplement, are alternate ways to get the "sunshine vitamin" without increasing your risk for skin cancer.

9. I only have to apply once.

Whose mother didn't hound them as children to reapply? Well, mama was right.

You should apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out in the sun, and every two hours after you are exposed. If you get into the water, you should apply even more often.

10. My makeup SPF is enough.

It's good to have sunscreen in your makeup, but it's more of an extra layer.

Try using a facial moisturizer with sunscreen in it, and then applying your makeup for extra coverage.

11. A sunscreen stick is better than a spray.

There are no huge differences between lotions, sprays or stick sunscreens. Use the one you like, and use it often.

Apply it to your dry skin 30 minutes before going outside.

12. I can use sunscreen from last summer, right?

Check the expiration date on your bottle. Some sunscreens break down quickly, and you shouldn't let it sit in your beach bag for too long.

13. The higher the SPF, the better.

It's logical to think SPF 30 is twice as protective as 15, but it doesn't work like that.

Sunscreens with higher SPF may block slightly more UVB rays, but none offer 100 percent protection. SPF 30 is what is typically recommended.

14. There are sunless tanning pills?

Yes, there are, but they are typically very unsafe.

They use the color additive, canthaxanthin, which can turn your skin orange or brown.

Taking this in high amounts can lead to potential liver damage and impaired vision, so stay away.

15. Self-tanners are unsafe.

Fear not! Your self-tanner is actually considered a safe alternative to regular tanning, as long as it is used as directed.

More research is needed, but take some safety precautions anyway, like protecting your eyes and not inhaling the product.

16. Darker skin protects you from skin cancer.

Although people with darker complexions may not have as high of a risk for getting skin cancer, they can develop very aggressive forms of melanoma.

The darker pigmentation can also make them less likely to notice skin discoloration, which can be even more dangerous.

17. I don't ever burn, so my skin is fine.

Not burning may be giving you a false sense of security. Deep damage can occur, and the accumulation of this damage is a ticking time bomb.

18. I can only get skin cancer when I'm older.

Melanoma cases have more than doubled for young people aged 15 to 39 since the 70s.

Now that we have sorted through the myths, take this knowledge with you and spread the word to help decrease melanoma risk.