Common Skin Cancer Misconceptions, Finding Your Bridge

I spent another long day photographing eagles and other wildlife at the bridge last weekend. It was really hot and humid and very buggy. Over and over I heard people comment that my sun protective clothing made them feel hot as in, “I’m hot just looking at you.” I took that opportunity as my opening to find out more about their thoughts on skin cancer and its prevention. Some of their thoughts demonstrated the need to make people more aware of some skin cancer myths and facts.

Skin cancer myths and facts #1: "it's just skin cancer!"

“I don’t worry about skin cancer. It’s only on the skin (he then pinched his skin). It’s not like liver cancer or anything.”

This is a myth. I guess he wasn’t familiar with metastatic melanoma. I gently discussed the fact some types of skin cancer can indeed travel to internal organs and other parts of the body and that this can have terrible consequences. Skin cancer is not “just” skin cancer. It’s not just skin deep.

Skin cancer myths and facts #2: "it's cloudy, so I'm fine!"

“It’s cloudy today. I don’t need to be concerned with sun damage.”

Another myth, and a common one, at that. It is often overcast and windy on the bridge and it may not even feel warm, but damaging ultraviolet rays do reach us anyway. A lot of people I spoke with actually began to understand, and they wondered why they experienced sunburn on days that were not bright and sunny.

Skin cancer myths and facts #3: You only need to apply sunscreen once per day

“I put on sunscreen this morning. I don’t need to reapply.”

When it’s 3 pm and 90 degrees with 70% humidity and you are chasing birds, you sweat. There is no getting around that. I keep sunscreen in my pocket and, while I was on the bridge, made sure people around me understood that they should reapply sunscreen every two hours or so, especially when they are sweating. Some folks had sunscreen in their cars, but it was not easily accessible and they did not want to miss an overhead eagle flight, so they just didn’t reapply. Accessibility is key.

Skin cancer myths and facts #4: Your head doesn't need sunscreen

“I don’t need a hat.”

Most of my bird chaser buddies are retired men who are experiencing male pattern baldness. I might see them putting sunscreen on their faces, but their bare (or almost bare) heads are not covered. I don’t like admitting that my hairline is receding; it stinks, to be honest, but I have come to terms with the fact that I need to protect my scalp. I recommend a broad-brimmed hat. Many hats now are specifically made with SPF properties.

Skin cancer myths and facts #5: The sun's strength doesn't change throughout the day

“I’m here all day.”

The most direct sunlight is normally between 10am and 2pm. This is the perfect time to take a break. Wildlife are generally more active and feed during the early mornings and late afternoons. I have seen folks out in the sun for hours during the hottest parts of the day while the eagles are perched in shade, panting (birds pant to cool themselves), and doing nothing essentially. Avoiding the midday sun is a good skincare practice.

Skin cancer myths and facts #6: Wearing UPF clothing makes you hot

“I couldn’t wear that”

Long sleeve shirts don’t have to be uncomfortably hot and they are better for protecting against bug bites and stings, not to mention the sun. The lightweight UPF protective separates I wear are tightly woven, yet, are also breathable and comfortable. They also stretch, which is important for an active lifestyle. The odd thing to me is that many people seem to be more concerned about getting mosquito bites than skin cancer. My clothing helps with both, and it’s actually a selling point!

For some folks, their favorite hangout spot is the water cooler, a local pub, or a bingo parlor. I love the bridge. It’s my regular skincare advocacy hangout. It’s a place where I am known and people care to converse. Where is your place?

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