We Asked Derms To Address Popular Sunscreen Myths And, TBH, This Information Should Be Common Knowledge
Consider this your cheat sheet to all things related to sun protection!
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Hello, people of the Internet, who should be wearing sunscreen all day, every day! If you don't believe us, we tapped two top dermatologists to dispel the most common myths surrounding sunscreen and sun protection.
Myth: People with more melanin in their skin don’t need to apply sunscreen.
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No one, I repeat, NO ONE is safe from UV exposure or developing skin cancer. In fact, it's estimated that
one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime *welps*.
Dr. Rossi explains why it might *seem* like no sunscreen's necessary: "People who have more melanin burn less easily because the melanin does increase their MED (Medium Erythema Dosage) or the amount of UV that would cause them to burn. However
darker skin types do also burn and should wear sun protection as well (hats, SPF, glasses, etc). People with darker skin types can also get skin cancer, including those caused by UV exposure."
The end, case closed. Everyone needs to wear sunscreen, despite the pigments in their skin.
Myth: All sunscreens work the same way.
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NOPE! First off, there are two types of sunscreens: physical and chemical. Some sunscreens nowadays combine these two categories, but for the sake of definitions,
physical sunscreens work like a shield that reflects and deflects the sun's rays on your skin's surface, while chemical sunscreens absorb, change, and neutralize the sun's rays.
On top of that, Dr. Nazarian says that "
every sunscreen needs to apply by the rules governed by the FDA when they claim something is broad spectrum, or when they determine their SPF." So what does "broad spectrum" mean exactly?
American Academy of Dermatology / Via
According to the FDA, "Broad spectrum" means the sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA rays and helps prevent skin cancer and sunburn. Sunscreens that aren't broad spectrum (or lack an SPF of at least 15) must carry the warning: "Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.” TIL!
And while the FDA requires a minimum of SPF 15, the
." American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) "recommends that you select a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher
Myth: SPF 50 is twice as effective as SPF 25, SPF 100 is twice as effective as SPF 50, etc.
False. You're already doing pretty darn great with SPF 30. Dr. Rossi breaks it down: "Dermatologists recommend using
a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun's UVB rays. Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun's UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun's UVB rays." In comparison, according to the AAD, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays. But if you don't apply enough sunscreen — most adults need an ounce, or about a shot glass's worth, for their entire body — you might not be even getting the SPF your sunscreen claims, so spread well and good!
Dr. Nazarian has a slightly simpler, personal guideline: "Although a high sunscreen is more effective than a lower sunscreen, it's not a simple direct relationship equation.
Use the highest SPF that still feels cosmetically comfortable for the best protection." That said, some experts think that since "nothing offers 100% protection, there is no statistical significance to using an SPF over 50."
Myth: All sunscreens will leave a white cast or make you look ashy.
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Um, nope! While I'm sure we've all had woeful experiences with less-than-ideal sunscreen finishes, there are options that basically rub theirselves into invisibility — mostly chemical sunscreens! I can personally attest to this and Dr. Rossi confirms, noting that "
the newer formulations with a combination of physical and chemical sunscreens rub in well and are more elegant formulations. Even the pure physical (zinc and titanium dioxide) are now micronized and rub in better."
Need some examples of clear-applying crowd faves?
Myth: Applying sunscreen once you're outside is fine.
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Wellll, it's definitely better applying sunscreen once you're out than not applying any at all! BUT. Just like foundation sometimes takes a little time to adjust to its true color (it oxidizes with the natural heat of your skin), sunscreens also don't work instantly! Like it probably states on any sunscreen bottle, Dr. Nazarian confirms that "
some sunscreens work best after 20 minutes following application, so apply before you head outdoors."
Myth: One application for the whole day (or entire period spent outside) is enough.
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the ol' reapply every two hours is still a great rule-of-thumb! Plus, as Dr. Nazarian adds, "after swimming, excessive sweating, or after toweling off, as much of it may rub off skin." That goes even if you're wearing a water-resistant (meaning effective for up to 40 to 80 minutes) sunscreen!
Myth: Wearing sunscreen is enough to be 100% protected from the sun.
20th Century Fox Television
We wish! Even if you lather yourself head to freakin' toe like Maggie Simpson is subjected to^, no sunscreen can **100%** protect your skin! NONE. *sheds a tear*
So, while sunscreen definitely covers major bases, Dr. Nazarian recommends taking "additional measures to protect our bodies from ultraviolet radiation, like
avoiding the outdoors during peak radiation hours (11 a.m.–3 p.m.), and using sun-protective clothing and tools such as hats, sunglasses and umbrellas/parasols." Better safe 'n covered than sorry!
For more info, check out a Skin Cancer Foundation blog post about
how to choose sun protection clothing with UPF ratings, like Sunday Afternoon hats with UPF 50+, and an American Academy of Ophthalmology post about how to choose the best sunglasses (spoiler: look for ones labeled with 100% UVA/UVB protection) — i.e. these round mirrored sunnies will properly protect your peepers!
Myth: You only need to wear sunscreen during the summer or during sunny days.
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Says who?? Not Dr. Nazarian! She states, "
Ultraviolet radiation is present year round. Whether it’s snowing, raining, or sunny, have a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. Remember that sun damage is cumulative — even small doses during the wintertime can add up over a lifetime."
Dr. Rossi furthers this by saying, "Depending where you live, UV exposure can happen on cloudy days and can also lead to not only skin cancer, but photo-aging (premature aging of the skin) as well!" Prevention is always key!
Myth: You don’t need to wear sunscreen if you're mostly indoors or in an office all day.
Not quite. If you're 100% shut in, sure, you don't have to wear sunscreen. But Dr. Nazarian reminds us that "
if you work near a window, radiation can penetrate glass, and you should protect yourself in that setting and reapply every two hours. And reapply if you're heading outdoors when the sun is still out after work." #HelloSummer
This is why I always wear sunscreen to work because I'm one desk away from a big window, and I'm not taking my chances!!
Myth: You only need to apply sunscreen to your face, and you're good!
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If only it was that easy! But Dr. Nazarian notes that "
areas like the ears, lips, back of the neck, and even your eyelids, are incredibly susceptible to ultraviolet radiation and have a high rate for development of skin cancer. These areas can easily burn and are often overlooked when applying sunscreen."
The lesson here: give smaller areas of your bod a little extra love! Wear lip balms with SPF (
Supergoop and Jack Black have great options). And don't forget about the tops of your feet, toes, and hands too!
Myth: You have sensitive skin, so sunscreens irritate your skin and don't ~work~ on you.
Myth: Spray-on sunscreens are just as effective as regular sunscreens.
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Ah, convenience is a tough cookie. While you don't have to completely swear them off, it's very worth noting that spray-on sunscreens probably aren't equal in efficacy to their lotion/cream counterparts.
Dr. Nazarian explained further: "Sunscreen needs to be applied at a thickness of 2 mg/cm².
It’s difficult to gauge how much of, or how thickly, the spray sunscreen is reaching your skin surface versus being aerosolized into the air. Lotions and creams are much more dependable and predictable in their coverage."
Myth: You need vitamin D and sunscreen will prevent your body from absorbing vitamin D.
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Nooope, besides the fact that you can easily get vitamin D through certain foods and/or supplements, Dr. Rossi says that "
you can still acquire vitamin D and wear sunscreen. You don’t have to burn to make vitamin D." Again, no sunscreen protects you 100%, so you're still getting a sliver of UV rays. Dr. Rossi points us to the Skin Cancer Foundation, where they confirm that "studies have never found that everyday sunscreen use leads to vitamin D insufficiency, and in fact, people who use sunscreen daily can maintain their vitamin D levels."
Even more interesting? It doesn't take a lot of sun for the body to produce vitamin D. In fact, 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure two to three times a week is really all your body can handle, before it starts automatically rejecting vitamin D to avoid overload — which means you're accumulating sun damage without any benefits. Ouch.
Myth: If you're wearing sunscreen, getting a little tan is fine and healthy.
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Let's get this straight:
there is no such thing as a safe tan. Sorry to break it to ya!
Since, again, no sunscreen is 100% effective at blocking radiation, tanning is still possible while wearing sunscreen. Dr. Nazarian warns, "
Remember that a tan is the skin's sign of exposure to dangerous ultraviolet radiation, which can damage our cells and potentially lead to skin cancer."
Dr. Rossi puts it succinctly: "We don’t encourage tanning or acquiring any redness from the sun." GOT IT!
Myth: Wearing makeup with built-in SPF is enough.
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Probably not! If you abide by sunscreen application rules, then your makeup also needs to be applied at a density of 2 mg/cm², but since Dr. Nazarian points out that "
most people do not apply their makeup that thickly, [any SPF] will thus have insufficient protection." Extra protection doesn't hurt, but you should always stick with sunscreen as a base and standalone step!
Myth: If you wear makeup, there's no way to reapply sunscreen through the day without disturbing what's underneath.
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Not quite! While, personally speaking, there isn't a perfect reapplication method for makeup wearers, Dr. Nazarian suggests using a brush-on powder, like "
Colorescience's brush-on sunscreen for easy application." But make sure you always start off the day with ~normal~ sunscreen — brushes like these should only be a supplement!
Myth: It's ok to use expired sunscreen.
No, there's usually an expiration date on the bottle for a reason! If it's not a date, then it's an "open container" symbol with X number of months — typically 12 months — that it's good for after you open the bottle/break the seal/etc. You also can look for visible signs that the sunscreen may no longer be good, like any obvious changes in the color or consistency of the product.
According to the FDA, if there isn't a date, they should be considered expired three years after purchase!
if you're using a sufficient amount of sunscreen every day, one bottle really shouldn't last you *that* long!
Myth: After years of not wearing sunscreen, starting now doesn't help.
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A big N-O. Emma knows (and this goes for any gender), and so does Dr. Nazarian, who reminds us that "
sun damage is cumulative, and even small doses every day can lead to skin cancer over time. It’s never too late to start taking care of your skin!" Word. 👏👏👏
Myth: With consistent sun protection, skin cancer is avoidable.
20th Century Fox
Sadly, no. Dr. Rossi informs us that "
skin cancer is multi-factorial, including environmental exposure (UV radiation is a high reason) and genetic factors (family history of skin cancer, red-headed genes, etc.)"
And I'll just let Dr. Nazarian take the floor with this quote, because it's very informative! She says: "There’s no safe level of radiation to avoid skin cancer.
Just like we don’t know how many cigarettes it takes to trigger lung cancer, we don’t know how much exposure to the sun it takes before you develop skin cancer. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to use sun-safe practices of using a daily broad spectrum sunscreen. People should also check their skin monthly and look for changing moles, uneven color in their moles, or any skin that bleeds and is slow to heal. I also recommend annual skin cancer checks to screen your skin with a board-certified dermatologist. Look for the letters 'MD' after their name — many people are claiming to be experts on skincare, but no one has greater education and training than a dermatologist."
Myth: Sunscreens that are labeled or marketed as “reef-safe” are generally safer and won’t harm the environment.
Up for debate. Like the authors of
this article about the environmental effects of oxybenzone published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. Rossi says there needs to be more data collection on this matter and that " in nature, the reason for coral reef bleaching is multifactorial, with the warming of ocean water considered to be a major contributor." That being said, since oxybenzone has been associated with bleaching of coral reefs in laboratory settings and has been "detected in water sources worldwide, as well as in fish, these concerns have led to the banning of oxybenzone- and octinoxate-containing sunscreens in Hawaii, effective January 2021."
Dr. Nazarian maintains that "
it is okay to use sunscreens that are not 'reef-safe' or those that are chemical-based; they are not necessarily bad for the environment." For example she says that, "Walgreens carries both oxybenzone and oxybenzone-free formulas that have been proven safe and effective by industry and regulatory agencies" (like The Skin Cancer Foundation) to give consumers different options that fit their personal preferences and lifestyle.
So TL;DR, stay tuned for more research and buy oxybenzone-free sunscreen if you're concerned!
If you're like, "Well, now what? Which sunscreen should I actually buy?" here are some derm-approved sunscreens to help you decide:
So, in conclusion...
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The responses used in this post have been edited for length and clarity.
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