July 13, 2017

Misunderstandings about sun safety

Dermatologist Manju Dawkins, MD, shares some do's and don'ts of staying safe in the sun.

LOS ANGELES – Now that summer is in full swing, many of us are spending more time in the sun, which means it’s even more important to know the do’s and don’ts of staying safe in the sun.

“A lot of people are simply not aware of the best ways to protect themselves from the sun,” said Manju Dawkins, MD, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles. “While sunscreen application is a crucial step in protecting yourself and your family members from sun damage, it’s only one means of protection.” She says a much more comprehensive sun protection routine is required to truly protect oneself from sun damage and skin cancer.

Here are some common misconceptions when it comes to protecting yourself from the sun, according to Dr. Dawkins:

  • I wear sunscreen so I am completely protected from the sun. While sunscreen is a crucial element in protecting yourself from sun damage, staying in the shade and wearing sun-protective clothing such as hats, sunglasses and clothing made of tightly woven fabrics, are very important in enabling you to enjoy the sun safely.
  • My car windows are tinted, so I am protected from the sun while driving. Car windows do offer some protection from UVB rays, which are the ones that cause sunburn and skin cancer, but UVA rays, which penetrate deeper and cause premature aging, can still get through. In fact, adults who spend a lot of time driving often note more sun damage on their left side than their right, due to the UV rays they are being exposed to through the windows. Words of advice: Keep sunscreen in your car.
  • I don’t need to protect myself from the sun on an overcast or foggy day. You can even get sunburned on a foggy day. UV rays can go through clouds, so make sure you protect yourself in rain or shine.
  • Sunscreen doesn't work on my child. Sunscreen works on every child. You just need to apply it often enough (every two hours in the direct sun), and more frequently when swimming or sweating. In fact, suffering one or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing potentially-deadly melanoma later in life.
  • I don’t get sunburns. I have a healthy tan. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. The physical sign of a tan is the skin’s way of trying to protect itself from further skin damage.
  • I have a darker skin tone. I won’t get a sunburn or develop skin cancer. Anyone can get a sunburn or develop skin cancer. While many people of color are less susceptible to UV damage thanks to the greater amounts of melanin that darker skin produces, people of color can still get sunburned and develop skin cancer.

Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles has a dermatologist available for interview on this topic. Please take a look at this video we created on sun safety, featuring Dr. Dawkins. Please contact us if you would like to speak to a Kaiser Permanente dermatologist for a story on sun safety.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 11.8 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health.