10 Sunscreen Myths to Stop Believing This Summer

10 Sunscreen Myths to Stop Believing This Summer

There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about sunscreen — what type you need, how much you need to apply and when you should wear it. But believing everything you hear can spell bad news for your skin. When it comes to protecting the skin from damaging sun rays that can lead to sun poisoning, blisters and cancer, sunscreen is your best line of defense. 

It’s important you get it right this summer. Let’s separate fact from fiction and debunk some common sunscreen myths so you can protect your skin.   

Read more: Best Sunscreen to Protect Your Skin

The top 10 myths about sunscreen

1. All sunscreen is the same

Yes, the goal of all sunscreen is to protect your skin from sun damage. But each product works differently, depending on its ingredients and level of sun protection. 

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There are generally two broad categories of sunscreen — chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens contain avobenzone and oxybenzone, which absorbs the sun’s rays and converts them to heat. Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, have ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide, which reflect the rays. The ingredients in sunscreen determine how they protect your skin from the sun. 

2. Higher SPFs are better

You would think the higher the number, the more protection you get. But that’s not always the case. SPF 50 blocks roughly 98% of UV rays. SPF 100 only blocks 99%, a marginal difference. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get SPF 100, just remember that no sunscreen can give you complete protection against the sun. The higher SPFs tend to give people a false sense of security against the sun, leading to skin damage. 

What does the number on your bottle of sunscreen mean? SPF stands for sun protection factor and measures how long a sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays. This metric is based on how long it takes your skin to burn in the sun without protection. Say it takes 30 minutes. If you applied SPF 30, it would take 30 times longer — 300 minutes total.  

I caution that these numbers are determined in a lab, with perfect application that doesn’t account for things like sweat, skin oils or accidentally rubbing off the product. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum, SPF 30 or higher, with reapplication every 2 hours. 

3. Makeup with sunscreen is all you need to protect your face

Using moisturizer or makeup with SPF included is a great way to add more sun protection. But it’s not enough to provide adequate protection from the sun. When testing, skincare companies test with thick layers of the product to determine the SPF. In practice, you’re probably not getting all the SPF on the bottle if you only apply a thin layer of the product. 

There’s too much variation in how people apply makeup to say it’s enough. Makeup with SPF is a nice addition, not a replacement for sunscreen.

If you’re wondering how the heck you’re going to apply sunscreen after you’ve done your makeup, you can either blot your sunscreen on top of your makeup with a beauty sponge or buy a powder sunscreen like the Colorscience Brush-On Sunscreen.

Read more: Best Facial Sunscreen

4. Waterproof sunscreen doesn’t need to be reapplied

Tell me if this sounds familiar from childhood: Your mom would lather you in sunscreen at the pool and make you sit there while it dried before jumping in the water. It was the longest wait of your life. 

It turns out your mom was right. Here’s the thing about waterproof sunscreen — it’s not really waterproof. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. Sweat and water will always wash sunscreen from the skin.

That’s why it’s important to wait 10 to 15 minutes before getting in the water after applying sunscreen. You should reapply it every 2 hours, even if you haven’t gotten in water.  

Woman applying sunscreen to her face while sitting outside. Woman applying sunscreen to her face while sitting outside.

Westend61/Getty Images

5. Darker skin doesn’t need sunscreen

Melanin does offer some natural protection from the sun by diffusing UV rays. However, people with darker skin can still develop wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, sunburns and skin cancer. A study published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology found that people with darker skin tend to have lower survival rates for skin cancer, reinforcing the need for every person to wear sunscreen. It’s important to note that people with darker skin tend to have lower survival rates because they are often underdiagnosed, not merely because of the color of their skin.

6. You only need to wear sunscreen when it’s sunny

Some people assume that no sunscreen is necessary because the sun is behind the clouds. But let me ask you, what is a cloud? If you guessed water vapor suspended in the air, then you are correct. While clouds can reduce the sun rays getting to your skin, they are not substantial enough to block them completely. Over 90% of UV rays pass through clouds. Even if it’s cloudy, it’s best to put on sunscreen. 

7. You’ll get a vitamin deficiency if you wear sunscreen

Vitamin D is the essential vitamin made when the protein in our skin reacts to UVB rays from the sun. Essentially, we need sunlight to make the necessary amount of vitamin D that allows our body to absorb calcium and phosphorus. No sunscreen blocks 100% of sun rays, even if the packaging says 100 SPF. You’ll still get approximately 2% to 3% of UVB rays, enough for your body to create vitamin D.

8. Tans are OK as long as you don’t burn

Safe base tans are a myth. The skin protects itself from further damage from UV rays by darkening. Having a base tan doesn’t protect you from the sun and is a sign of skin damage.  

UV radiation is a human carcinogen. Even if you don’t have sunburn, unprotected sun exposure increases your chance of developing skin cancer. Establishing a base tan with a session at the tanning salon is still doing damage to your skin. 

Woman sun tanning in a hammock on the beach. Woman sun tanning in a hammock on the beach.

skynesher/Getty Images

9. Sunscreen is bad for your skin

The conversation around sunscreen safety mainly concerns oxybenzone and other chemical ingredients in some sunscreens. There has been an ongoing debate on the health risks of using chemicals in sunscreen. While the FDA hasn’t found significant evidence that chemical sunscreens are harmful, more research is needed to conclude. A study published on JAMA Network discovered that 6 of the 13 ingredients in chemical sunscreen that the FDA is currently considering were absorbed and detectable in the bloodstream up to three weeks after one application. 

Additionally, some sunscreens can irritate sensitive skin or cause an allergic reaction because of the ingredients like fragrances. You can avoid this by opting for a sunscreen formulated for sensitive skin. 

10. Sunscreen doesn’t expire

If you’ve ever used old sunscreen and squirted a separated mixture into your hand, you know firsthand that sunscreen expires. Over time, the ingredients break down and become less effective. 

That doesn’t mean you have to buy sunscreen every year. According to the FDA, sunscreens are required to keep the same effectiveness for at least three years. So you can use the same tube of sunscreen for multiple years; just pay close attention to the expiration date, which is listed on the bottle. You shouldn’t store your sunscreen anywhere in direct sunlight or where it can get too hot. It’s not a good idea to store it in your car. 

Too long; didn’t read?

There are a lot of myths floating around about sunscreen, many of which can lead you to make the wrong decision for your skin. The bottom line is sunscreen should be an essential part of everyone’s daily routine, especially if you’re going to spend time outside. Reapply every 2 hours. 




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