So, you’ve got your beach towel, umbrella, and picnic basket packed up, and you’re all ready for a day at the beach, right?
Not so fast. Before you head out for any amount of fun in the sun, you need to grab some sunscreen.
You probably know that the sun has a dark side—too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation can lead to painful burns, premature aging of the skin, and DNA damage, which can lead to skin cancer. The effects of these rays are so severe, in fact, that the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the sun is to blame for around 90 percent of all non-melanoma skin cancers.
In addition to these effects, UVR damage also weakens the immune system’s response to tumors, allowing cancer to develop unchecked.
That’s serious business.
Unfortunately, misinformation abounds when it comes to sunblock, leaving many people unprotected from the dangers of the sun. To help you avoid these falsehoods—and the burns that come with them—let’s take a look at 7 myths about sunscreen you need to stop believing.
“I don’t need sunscreen when it’s cloudy.”
Clouds can actually reduce or increase UVR levels, depending on a number of factors. Thin clouds do nothing to block UVR, while on days that are partly cloudy, those rays can reflect off the edges of clouds, intensifying the danger.
Ideally, you should wear sunscreen any time you go outside, no matter the conditions. It’s wise to keep it with your makeup, electric razor, or whatever else you use in your daily facial routine. Put it on every day, covering any areas of exposed skin.
No matter what, some level of UVR rays are able to pass through any thickness of cloud, so make sunscreen a part of your everyday routine to avoid damaging your skin.
"If I have darker skin, I won't burn."
While it’s true that those with darker pigmentation have more of a protective compound called melanin in their skin, the sun is still a danger.
Dermatologists classify the degrees of pigmentation in skin as “skin types,” classifying people as anything from type 1, which means very little pigmentation, to type 6, which refers to very dark pigmentation.
People who are closer to type 1 will burn much more quickly than those who hover around type 6, but even the darkest skin has its weak spots.
The areas under the fingernails, toenails, and on the palms of the hand sand soles of the feet are still vulnerable in those with darker skin, and generalized damage will still occur. And if cancer does develop, it is harder to spot on darker skin, making the risk all the greater.
No matter what your skin type, using sunblock is an absolute must.
“The chemicals in sunscreen are dangerous.”
This myth is among the most dangerous of all, causing people to entirely avoid sunblock.
While some people are somewhat allergic to certain chemicals in sunscreens, absolutely no studies have found sunscreen to be inherently dangerous or damaging in any way.
Sunscreen is considered an over-the-counter drug, and so is regulated by the FDA. This means it is subjected to far more scrutiny and regulation than things like cosmetics and fragrances.
The truth is this: the sun is far more verifiably dangerous than sunblock will ever be, making this a decidedly easy choice.
"All sunscreens are the same"
There are many varieties of sunscreen, and not all are equal.
One prevalent myth about sunscreen is that SPF doesn’t matter. It does. A sunblock that is rated with SPF 90 protection blocks 99 percent of damaging rays, while SPF 30 blocks only 96 percent. While this measly 3 percent difference may not seem like much, it adds up over a lifetime of cumulative exposure.
There are also different fundamental types of sunscreen. Some are physical sunblocks which use zinc oxide to block the sun’s rays. Other sunscreens use chemicals, such as avobenzone, to convert these rays into heat.
Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Physical sunscreens offer more complete protection, but also wear off more easily. Chemical sunscreens are easier to apply, disappear more completely, and stay on for longer, but may also cause irritation and overheating.
Both types work well, but try both, as one or the other may work better for your unique activities.
“One application will last all day.”
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just put on sunscreen and forget about it. It can rub off, be sweated off, and break down over time, so it is recommended that you reapply your sunblock every two hours, at a minimum.
As a general rule, if you’re covering your entire body, you should use enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass, making sure to spread it evenly. Don’t forget areas like the ears, back of the neck, and upper chest—these are particularly vulnerable spots.
And if you’re in the water, check your sunblock’s label to see how often you’ll need to reapply it—it will likely be more often than every two hours.
One application of sunblock just isn’t enough to keep you safe all day, so keep reapplying.
“Sunscreen never goes bad.”
Every bottle of sunscreen actually has an expiration date printed right there on the bottle. Some sunscreens break down more quickly than others, so don’t be so fast in pulling last year’s lotion out of storage.
You’re always better off buying a new bottle than using something from last season, so keep it fresh!
“Sunscreen is all the protection I need.”
This is another particularly damaging myth. Sunscreen is great at protecting your skin from sun damage, but it’s not all-powerful. The best answer to the dangers of the sun is still the simplest—cover your skin.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is one of the best ways to protect the fragile skin of your face. When it comes to fabrics, darker colors and synthetic materials offer better protection.
If you’re going to be outside all day—especially if you routinely work outside—supplement your sunblock with clothing, and you’ll be far more protected from the dangers of the sun.