Four common myths about tanning

Myth: When a melanoma is cut out, it's gone
Myth: I'm healthier with a tan
Myth: I need lots of sun to get Vitamin D
Myth: I only need to use sunscreen

There are many myths about sun tanning out there. Ignore the myths and get the facts.

Too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation increases your skin cancer risk. Find out how to reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Myth: "When a melanoma is cut out, it's gone"

One reason melanoma is the most lethal of all skin cancers is because at only 1mm deep it can get into your blood stream and easily spread to other parts of your body.

Even if you have a melanoma removed, secondary cancers can form in your bones, your lungs, your heart or your head. Regular health checks are necessary.

Overexposure to UV radiation causes more than 95% of skin cancers.

It's important to get melanomas surgically removed early, but preventing a melanoma from occurring in the first place is even more important.

Myth: "I look healthier with a tan"

You may think you feel or look healthier with a tan but once you understand what is happening to your skin, you'll think again.

  • Tanning is skin cells in trauma. In response to UV damage, skin cells produce melanin to protect themselves. However, one damaged cell can start a deadly melanoma growing.
  • Too much UV exposure can result in structural damage to your skin – in the short term, burning or scarring and in the longer term skin cancer or premature ageing.

Tanning is skin cells in trauma, trying to protect themselves from cancer.

There's nothing healthy about a tan.

Myth: "I need lots of sun to get Vitamin D"

We all need Vitamin D for good health and the main natural source of Vitamin D is from the sun. It can also be obtained from some foods.

A balance is required between UV exposure for Vitamin D production and protecting the skin from damage and skin cancer.

Most people receive enough Vitamin D from daily incidental exposure to the sun. Going about normal day-to-day outdoor activities, such as walking to the train station, while still protecting your skin when UV index is 3 or above, is enough for most people to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels.

Some groups of people may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency and should consult their doctor about whether they need a Vitamin D supplement. For example: naturally dark-skinned people; people who cover most of their skin for religious or cultural reasons; people who live mostly indoors over a long period of time; and people with certain medical conditions.

Quick tips: 

  • Exposing your skin to the sun when the UV index is 3 and above increases your risk of developing skin cancer so protect your skin.
  • To maintain adequate Vitamin D levels, short bursts of sun (outside peak UV periods) are better, as the body can only absorb a set amount at a time.
  • Your body can rely on its stores of Vitamin D for 30 to 60 days.
  • People concerned about their Vitamin D levels should talk with the doctor.
  • Exposing yourself to UV radiation in a solarium will damage your skin and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Solaria are illegal and not an effective way to obtain Vitamin D. .
  • For good bone health, maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

Myth: "I only need to use sunscreen"

Sunscreen is one of 5 sun protection behaviours you should practice to protect your skin from UV radiation.

Use sunscreen in combination with protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, creating or finding shade and sunglasses (Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide).

For sunscreen to be effective it needs to be applied 20 minutes before going outside. A generous amount of sunscreen is needed, but many people don’t apply enough.

As a guide, about a teaspoon (5ml) is required for each arm, leg, front of body, back of body and half a teaspoon for the face.

The average sized adult needs about 7 teaspoons of sunscreen for their whole body (35ml).

  • Use a SPF 30-50+ broad spectrum sunscreen on all areas of exposed skin.
  • Apply at least 20 minutes before going outside and reapply at least every 2 hours, and after swimming. Sunscreen can be wiped off by clothing, water, sand and rubbing.
  • Apply one teaspoon to each part of your body and don't miss areas such as behind the ears and knees.
  • Use water resistant sunscreen if you participate in water sports or sweat often.
  • Ensure the sunscreen complies with the current Australian and New Zealand Standard for Sunscreens (AS/NZS 2604:2012)
  • Check the expiry date.

Remember: Sunscreen is not meant to be used to extend the amount of time you spend in the sun, and should definitely not be used to help you get a tan.

If snorkelling or swimming near coral wear a protective rashie or stinger suit to protect your skin. Apply sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredients to any exposed skin.  Check the active ingredients of sunscreen on the packaging and at this website.

Protect your skin in five ways

Protect your skin in five ways

1. Slip on clothing that covers your shoulders, arms and legs.

2. Slop on SPF 30+ or higher broad‑spectrum water‑resistant sunscreen 20 minutes before heading outdoors and then reapply every 2 hours.

3. Slap on a broad‑brimmed hat that protects your face, ears and neck

4. Seek shade whenever you can, especially when the UV levels are highest (10am–2pm or 11am–3pm during daylight savings).

5. Slide on sunglasses that fit your face well and wrap around the sides of your face.

Learn more on how to protect your skin.