An estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Despite its prevalence, there are still a lot of misconceptions about sun safety and skin cancer—like that people of color don't get skin cancer, a base tan prevents sunburn, tanning beds are safer than the sun, or that you don't need to wear sunscreen on a cloudy day. All of these statements are false.

There's nothing like cold-hard facts to dispel myths that surround these serious diseases. Skin cancer statistics equip you with sun safety knowledge by giving you a better understanding of how skin cancer happens, who it affects, and what you can do to prevent it.

Debunking Myths with Skin Cancer Statistics

Uncomfortable truths are exactly that: uncomfortable. When it comes to skin cancer, awareness is key to staying healthy and making sure others do, too. This information on skin cancer may be surprising, but confronting these statistics and myths head-on can help you make safer choices. This way, you can decrease your risk and enjoy the sunshine.

1. Sunscreen Doesn't Reduce Your Risk of Skin Cancer

You likely know that you should wear sunscreen when you're outside, but putting this into practice is another story. Here's why it's so important.

According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is associated with causing 80 to 90 percent of skin cancers, which is why a broad-spectrum sunscreen is often touted as the best means of prevention.

Applying a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day can reduce your risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent and your melanoma risk by 50 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

2. Tanning Beds Are Safer Than the Sun

Tanning beds increased in popularity during the early 2000s and have been largely misunderstood as a safe alternative to the sun. In fact, tanning beds actually produce UV levels up to 100 times more than what you would naturally get from the sun, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

One indoor tanning session increases your risk of melanoma by 20 percent, squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent, and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent, per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). AAD surveys indicate that nearly 25 percent of young adults are unaware or unsure of the safety of tanning beds compared to the sun.

3. Sunburn Is No Big Deal

If you spend too much time in the sun, your unprotected skin will either burn or develop a tan. While sunburn is usually painful and unsightly, tans are typically coveted. In reality, both are forms of skin damage.

Sunburns are especially dangerous. According to Cancer Research UK, getting a sunburn once every two years actually triples your risk of melanoma skin cancer (when compared to never getting burnt).

What about a base tan? It's commonly believed that getting a base tan, either from sun exposure or tanning beds, builds a layer of defense against sun damage and skin cancer. There's little evidence to show that a base tan provides substantial protection, but any degree of tanned skin is a sign of cancer-causing skin damage and any exposure to UV rays increases your risk of skin cancer.

4. People of Color Can't Get Skin Cancer

Skin cancer affects everyone, but it's more common in certain races. The American Cancer Society states that skin cancer is about 20 times more common in white people than in Black people. Melanin in darker skin tones may provide some protection against sunburn. Still, having darker skin doesn't mean you can't get skin cancer, and sunscreen should still be worn every day.

The melanoma survival rate for Black people is less than that for white people, so although skin cancer is more common in white people, it's more deadly for Black people. This is likely because skin cancer in people of color is often caught at a later stage, making it more difficult to treat.

Preventing Skin Cancer and Raising Awareness

These skin cancer statistics are a reminder of why taking precautions is so important. Knowledge is power because prevention is possible.

To reduce your risk of skin cancer, seek shade during peak sunny hours; wear sun-protective clothing and accessories like long-sleeve shirts, hats, and sunglasses; avoid indoor tanning; and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.

For everyday protection, the EltaMD UV Active Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ offers maximum coverage and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes—so you can enjoy those beautiful sunny days, carefree.


  • Lacey Muinos

    Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.

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