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Skin Health

A Dermatologist Explains 5 Common Skin Cancer Myths

skin-cancer-diagnosis-dark skinned
skin-cancer-diagnosis-dark skinned

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, yet many people still believe these five common skin cancer myths.

Seth Matarasso, M.D.

President, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery

Myth 1 — Dark-skinned people are not at risk for sun damage or skin cancer.

Skin cancer is color blind and can affect anyone at any age on any area of the body. While skin cancer is less common in skin of color, it is still an important health concern. People with darker skin should still take action to protect their skin and eyes from overexposure to the sun as they can still develop malignancies and suffer all forms of UV damage.

Myth 2 — People who tan easily or rarely burn aren’t susceptible to skin cancer.

There is no such thing as a healthy suntan. Any change in your natural skin color is a sign of skin damage; the increase in skin pigment, called melanin, is a sign of damage. Once the skin is exposed to UV radiation, it increases the production of melanin in an attempt to protect the skin from further damage.

Myth 3 — Sunscreen isn’t necessary on cloudy days or in the winter.

Even under cloud cover or in colder climates, the sun can harm your skin and eyes, causing long-term damage. In fact, snow can reflect the sun’s damaging rays, increasing your chance of sunburn and/or skin damage. Wear the appropriate amount of sunscreen (one ounce or a shot glass-sized amount for your body and a tablespoon for your face), apply it according to the instructions and reapply it throughout the day.

Myth 4 — Only UVB radiation can cause skin damage.

Both UVA and UVB rays can cause sunburns and damage skin, potentially leading to skin cancer. UVA rays can penetrate the dermis (the middle layer of skin) due to their longer wavelength, and UVB rays’ shorter wavelength can reach the epidermis (outer layer of skin). Look for a sunscreen that provides protection from both types of ultraviolet radiation, called “broad-spectrum.”

Myth 5 — Skin cancer only affects older adults.

Skin cancer can affect anyone. Monthly self-exams are strongly recommended to supplement annual skin cancer screenings with a board-certified dermatologist. When people regularly check their skin for suspicious moles or lesions, they can save their own lives. Look for sores that do not heal or any changes in the number, size, shape, or color of spots on your skin. Pay special attention to moles that have recently changed, bleed or itch. Skin cancer can affect anyone of any ethnicity, gender or age. Free sun safety resources are available at, and you can find a local board certified dermatologist at

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