Some sunscreen safety tips are legitimate, while others are no more than myths itching to be exposed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sun can damage your skin in just 15 minutes — which means premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. By knowing what’s fact and what’s poppycock, you can stay safe while having fun in the sun.
Myth #1: Dark Skin Protects From Burns
It’s true that darker-complexioned skin offers some sun protection. But melanin (the compound that colors skin) provides a sun protection factor (SPF) of just 1.5 to 2, according to Berkeley Wellness. This isn’t enough protection to eliminate sun damage, so don’t skimp on the sunscreen just because you’re not prone to burning easily.
Myth #2: Higher SPF = More Effective
Technically, a sunscreen’s sun protection factor (SPF) is a relative measure of how long — not how effectively — it will protect your skin, but experts recommend reapplying it every one to two hours. Besides, when it comes to SPF, breadth is just as important as depth, since regular SPF only protects against UVB radiation. So even though higher SPF sunscreens do offer marginally increased protection against UVB rays, they can leave you unprotected from damaging UVA radiation. Look for sunscreens that protect against both types. These are usually labeled as having “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB” protection.
Myth #3: Sunscreen Is Just as Bad as Sun Exposure
Many people have nixed sunscreen due to concerns about toxic chemicals. However, you can find sunscreens made with safer formulas. As UV rays can cause cancer, it’s smarter to shop for a sunscreen you feel comfortable with than forget sun protection altogether.
Oxybenzone is the main ingredient to worry about in sunscreens, and the Environmental Working Group suggests steering clear. Instead, choose sunscreens containing ingredients like titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and avobenzone.
Myth #4: Sunscreen Causes Vitamin D Deficiency
Although sunscreens do lower your body’s ability to produce vitamin D, no study has linked sunscreen use to vitamin D deficiency, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And, you don’t have to get vitamin D from sunlight to meet daily requirements. Dietary sources of vitamin D include fish, yogurt, milk (and many plant-based milks) and vitamin D-fortified breakfast cereals, as well as multivitamins and vitamin D supplements.
Myth #5: There’s No Reason to Worry on Cloudy Days
Skin-damaging UV rays reach Earth’s surface even in dreary weather. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that up to 40 percent of the sun’s rays affect your skin on completely cloudy days. So make sunscreen use a priority (or cover up your skin with clothing) even on days when the sun is hiding.
What If I Get Burned?
Despite taking proper sunscreen safety precautions, you can still end up with a sunburn while having fun in the sun. When you do get a sunburn, avoid further sun exposure, drink plenty of water, apply moisturizer, take ibuprofen or aspirin as needed and use hydrocortisone cream or aloe vera to ease discomfort.