Local Dermatologists Debunk 9 Sunscreen Myths
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the most preventable risk factor for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma. With hot weather in full swing, sunscreen should be a staple in your routine whenever you or your family spends time outside.
However, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding sunscreen, when it should be worn, and how often it should be applied. Several local dermatologists put these myths to rest, so you can be informed about your sunscreen choices this summer.
Myth: “I don’t need to wear sunscreen.”
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that everyone (all skin types) wear sunscreen, at least an SPF of 30, to protect their skin from the sun’s damage. The higher the SPF, the higher the protection from the UVB rays. Dr. Kappa Meadows of Dermatology Consultants recommends a broad spectrum sunscreen to her patients to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. “Because the sun is classified as a carcinogen, just like nicotine is, it’s recommended to protect your skin so that you won’t develop cancer,” she says.
Myth: “One good burn each season will protect me.”
There is no scientific data to support the claim that a base tan or burn will protect your skin from future damage. “Every bit of sun damage increases your risk for skin cancer,” says Dr. Sonni Carlton of Dermatology Consultants. “Sunburns are definitely a known risk factor for melanoma.” According to Dr. Meadows, a base tan will give you a protection equivalent to an SPF of 3, so you should apply sunscreen for optimal protection.
Myth: “All sunscreens are the same.”
“All sunscreens are certainly not the same,” says Dr. Kristen Kuk of Ridgeview Dermatology. “One way to categorize sunscreens is into chemical and physical sunscreens, which have different properties. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing and essentially deactivating ultraviolet rays as they reach the skin. The advantage of chemical sunscreens is that they are more easily made to be colorless and odorless, which makes them more appealing to most. However, they are also the most likely to cause allergic reactions. Physical or barrier sunscreens most commonly contain titanium and or zinc oxide. They work by reflecting ultraviolet radiation and therefore often have the more opaque appearance that is less popular, particularly in facial sunscreens. However, physical sunscreens are better tolerated by people with sensitive skin.”
Myth: “I can apply at the beginning of the day and I’m covered.”
The AAD recommends reapplying sunscreen at least every two hours. When doing so, apply generously to all areas of skin that will not be covered by clothing. Adhere to the guideline of “one ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass,” which the AAD considers enough to cover all exposed areas of the body.
Myth: “The SPF in my makeup is enough.”
In general, most people do not apply makeup heavily enough to give them adequate sun protection. “The recommendation is a moisturizer with an SPF of 30 or greater under makeup,” says Dr. Alexis Chantal of Ridgeview Dermatology.
Myth: “Last year’s bottle is still okay to use.”
Before being made available to purchase, sunscreen is put through rigorous tests. In order to be placed on store shelves, sunscreen must be able to survive three months in the laboratory conditions, which simulate three years in the real world. This means your sunscreen should be good for three years from the production date. However, be sure to check all sunscreen containers for an expiration date, and throw it away once that date has passed. Dr. Megan Allison of Ridgeview Dermatology says, “For optimal sun protection as well as texture, stability, and sterility of the product, use the sunscreen prior to the date listed on the bottle. Keep in mind that sunscreen should be used generously and frequently.” If used correctly, a bottle of sunscreen should be used before the end of summer.
Myth: “I need sun to get vitamin D.”
This is perhaps one of the most common misconceptions.
Dr. Kamal Chantal of Ridgeview Dermatology explains, “You do not need sun to get the vitamin D your body needs. You can get all the vitamin D you need through your diet or a vitamin D supplement negating the need for unprotected sun exposure. In fact, many people who are exposed to a tremendous amount of sunlight, such as surfers in Hawaii, have been proven in medical studies to be vitamin D deficient.”
Myth: “The chemicals in sunscreen are more dangerous than sunburn.”
The FDA regulates sunscreen ingredients and holds them to the same standard as any other over-the-counter drug. “The American Academy of Dermatology strongly emphasizes the need to wear sunscreen,” says Dr. Carlton. “Just because the internet says sunscreen isn’t safe doesn’t mean that it’s true.”
Myth: “I only need sunscreen when it’s sunny.”
“Forty to 80 percent of UV rays penetrate clouds,” says Dr. Carlton, meaning you are still very likely to get burnt under cloud cover. Continue to follow the same guidelines for sunscreen application that you would on a bright, sunny day.
By Leah Jones