15 Sunscreen Myths You Need to Ignore
You may know that you need to apply sunscreen year-round, not just as a summer precaution, but there are quite a few myths and bits of misinformation floating around that may make your use of sunscreen inadequate. This can result in skin damage, premature aging, and an increased cancer risk. We're shining a light on sunscreen myths -- and offering dependable alternatives for what you should do instead -- so you don't get burned.
Buy water-resistant sunscreen, but you should know that the Food and Drug Administration has mandated a labeling change dating back to 2011: Brands cannot label sunscreen as "waterproof." Labels are now required to say "water resistant," because the effectiveness wears off in the water.
Instead: Look for a sunscreen that is labeled "water resistant for up to 80 minutes," and reapply as soon as that time period is up. Even inexpensive brands can be very effective.
Applying sunscreen is easy, but it's also easy to do an inadequate job. This means you'll be more prone to getting burned, which is the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish.
Instead: Ensure you're applying enough sunscreen -- a general goal for an adult is around 1 ounce, or about the amount that can fit in a shot glass, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Generously coat all exposed skin (ask for assistance for hard-to-reach spots).
Once you've applied sunscreen adequately, you're good for a 6-hour stroll for the zoo, right? Nope. Sunscreen's effectiveness eventually wears off, leaving you exposed and in danger.
Instead: Reapply every two hours at a minimum.
One sunscreen is as good as the next, right? Well, not really. Sunscreens are rated with a sun protection factor (SPF), indicating, in general, how long a person can stay in the sun. For example, if your skin starts to burn after 10 minutes in the sun, SPF 30 sunscreen allows 30 times as much exposure, or five hours without burning.
Instead: Don't skimp out and buy sunscreen that's SPF 5 just because it's cheaper -- look for at least SPF 30, if not SPF 50, to get the most out of your sunscreen.
Sunscreen spray is convenient and is often preferred by parents who are keen to get their kids protected ASAP. However, the American Academy of Dermatology says that it's "as good as" regular lotion if it's sprayed into the hands, then applied to the skin (which kind of defeats the purpose of a spray). It also can cause issues with breathing -- oh, it can also be flammable.
Instead: Stick to traditional lotions and sticks.
Your bottle of sunscreen from a few years back is totally okay, right? Maybe not. While the FDA does require that sunscreens maintain their original strength for three years, if there is no expiration date visible, it's best to purchase new, as ingredients can degrade and may not protect as well.
Instead: If you buy a sunscreen with no expiration date, write the date on the bottle so you'll know when to toss it. If three years have passed since the date, chuck it in the trash and buy new.
While we get plenty of sun exposure by the time we turn 18 (and childhood sunburns should be avoided), that doesn't mean that we should stop worrying about slathering on the sunscreen as adults. UV exposure matters at any age and can lead to premature aging and skin cancer -- and the risk of melanoma does increase as people age.
Instead: Always apply sunscreen, whether you're 8 or 80.
While those with darker skin do have less to worry about as far as sun damage goes (melanoma risk is quite a bit higher for light-skinned folks), but dark skin can and does get sunburned. Also, melanoma tends to be more deadly for people of color.
Instead: Lather up, no matter what skin color you have.
Some people feel that sunscreen on the face is important -- so important, in fact, that they don't bother with the rest of their body. This is a pretty big misstep, however, as skin cancer and other UV damage can affect any part of the body that is exposed to the sun.
Instead: Apply sunscreen to your face, and everywhere else that is exposed.
While sunscreen can interfere with our bodies' natural ability to convert sunlight to vitamin D, the American Academy of Dermatology actually recommends that people not get their daily allotment of vitamin D from the sun (or tanning beds). In other words, don't avoid sunscreen because you're worried about not getting enough vitamin D.
Instead: Get vitamin D from a variety of food sources, such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), fish liver oil, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. It is also found in fortified foods, such as milk, breakfast cereal, and some brands of juices.
Avoiding the sun during peak hours -- from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- is a good way to avoid damage from sun exposure. However, this doesn't mean you don't need to apply sunscreen earlier or later than peak hours, as sun exposure can still cause issues.
Instead: Apply, apply, apply, whether it's 1 p.m. or 7 p.m.
Going out to the beach, you've forgotten sunscreen. Is this old bottle that you've kept in your hot car okay to use? Probably not, as sunscreen usually has storage recommendations on its bottle for a reason -- heat can hasten its demise, rendering it useless.
Instead: Store your sunscreen inside in a cool, dark place for maximum effectiveness.
Some people may feel nixing sunscreen is worth the risk, as skin cancer can often be removed and isn't really a big deal. While it's true that some skin cancers can be dealt with, others can actually kill you (melanoma). Removing skin cancer is a big deal and can leave you with large scars or loss of function.
Instead: Again, use sunscreen, because skin cancer is a huge deal, it's preventable, and you don't want it.
While some people feel that starting with a base tan will help prevent sun damage and sunburns, it's a good idea to avoid doing so, as tans are actually a sign of damage to your skin's DNA and don't really provide much protection anyway.
Instead: Avoid indoor tanning, and wear sunscreen daily.
Looking for the best sunscreen can be overwhelming -- so many choices. However, a higher SPF sunscreen is not always better. Dermatologists say SPF 30 should be adequate for most needs, as it filters out 97 percent of all incoming UVB rays. Sunscreen with SPF 50 only blocks out 1 percent more -- and no sunscreen can block 100 percent, not even SPF 100.
Instead: Purchase sunscreen with at least SPF 30, and don't bother with SPF 100.