Top Sunscreen Myths Debunked To Protect Your Skin

Andy Murray of Great Britain applies sunscreen at the Olympic Tennis Centre prior to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Sunscreen is used more widely now than in past generations, but there are still myths surrounding its use and when, where, and how to use it.

Galesburg examined some of the sunscreen myths that we need to stop believing in an effort to prevent skin cancer, premature aging, and sunburn. Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at the New York University Langone Medical Center, helps debunk some of the top sunscreen myths to get us all on the same page.

She says that perhaps the top myth is that sunscreen is sunscreen, and all are created equal. Dr. Hale says that it’s important to look at the ingredients and make sure that certain terms appear on the label.

“To best protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays, look for the words ‘broad spectrum’ when choosing a sunscreen, which means the product protects from both forms of UV radiation.”

The best sunscreens are also water and sweat resistant and have a sun protection factor or SPF of at least 30 for all skin types, which introduces the next myth, that darker-skinned people don’t need sunscreen, or if you’re not burned, you don’t have sun damage.

Dr. Hale says that having a darker complexion means that you have more melanin, which only serves to diffuse UV light, but provides no protection from the sun’s harmful rays, “skin cancer, and sun-induced hyperpigmentation.”

She says that if you are deterred by sunscreens that leave behind white residue, there are not clear sunscreens and lotions with micronized zinc which provide great coverage.

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The doctor says that it’s also a common misconception that daily makeup or moisturizer that contains sunscreen is enough to protect your skin from daily exposure, and she says that this is untrue for more than one reason. First, these products tend to have a minimum SPF and should be thought of as a safety net. Second, she says that most people don’t reapply their makeup or moisturizer during the day.

“Since we don’t always reapply our makeup on a regular basis, your skin is vulnerable for the majority of the day.”

Her last tip is about sunscreen and expiration dates. Dr. Hale says that sunscreen does expire, and with its expiration, one should expect that the strength and ingredients in the product will be weakened. If you keep your sunscreen in your beach bag, you should expect that it could actually expire sooner, so it’s never a bad idea to buy a new bottle of sunscreen.

“The active ingredients in most SPF products tend to breakdown after about three years, and even faster when exposed to high temperatures and direct sunlight.”