There’s a lot of misconception about sunscreen and where it belongs in our personal care rituals. If you browse the skincare aisles of any drugstore, beauty retailer, or department store, you’ll notice that most brands that market a complete line of skincare usually do not include sunscreen in the lineup. And so most people do not include it in their skincare routine outside of whatever’s included in their makeup or moisturizer.
The official start of summer 2021 is almost here and many of us will be spending more time outdoors, enjoying the weather, and pursuing our favorite activities. The coming summer will probably be a lot more active for many people since we spent last summer cooped up indoors during the quarantine instead of experiencing the season in our favorite ways. Hopefully, you’ve been wearing sun protection religiously and in the right amount, as well as reapplying after intervals of exposure. If you haven’t, it’s not too late to start protecting your skin from harmful UV rays that can age you prematurely and even cause skin cancer.
To help you develop and maintain good sunscreen habits this summer and beyond, here are 10 common myths about sunscreen we need to stop believing.
Hopefully, you’ve been wearing sun protection religiously and in the right amount. If you haven’t, it’s not too late to start protecting your skin.
MYTH 1: You Only Need to Apply as Much as Moisturizer
How much moisturizer do you apply every time you complete your routine? However much that works out to be according to your skin type and preferences, it’s probably not as much as the amount of sunscreen you should be applying.
Applying sunscreen as a separate step is the best way to ensure that you’re getting the right amount of coverage. Use half a teaspoon of SPF on your face, neck, and décolletage, and two tablespoons for your body. An easy way to ensure you get the right amount is to use at least two fingers’ worth no matter what the weather is like on any given day. (Three fingers if you’re applying with a sponge or puff since you’ve got to compensate for how much product the sponge could be absorbing.)
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MYTH 2: Higher SPF = More Protection
Contrary to what may seem like a logical thought progression, SPF 100 will not provide double the amount of protection as SPF 50. You’ll notice that most brands with a sunscreen product in their product lineup never go higher than SPF 50. That’s because SPF 50 offers 98 percent protection from UVB rays, and anything more than that doesn’t offer much more.
MYTH 3: Sunscreen Is Only For Sunny Days
This is a dangerous myth as it lulls people into a false sense of complacency about how often they should be wearing sunscreen. Don’t be fooled into thinking that cloudy days mean you can skip the SPF—UV rays can penetrate cloud cover. The only times when it’s okay to go without sun protection are before sunrise and after sunset.
MYTH 4: SPF in Makeup and Skincare Is Enough
The protection offered by most products with built-in sunscreen is only within the range of SPF 15 to 35, which is only 94 to 97 percent. There’s also the quantity factor, which is an important aspect of UV blocking. In order to get as much UV protection from, say, a powder foundation with SPF, as you would from a sunscreen, you’d have to apply 15 layers. That doesn’t sound efficient, aesthetically pleasing, or sustainable. Lastly, most of the sunscreen in makeup and skincare is not broad-spectrum, only offering protection from UVB rays. UVA rays have a longer wavelength and are more likely to cause accelerated skin aging and skin cancer. Undoubtedly, some sunscreen is better than none at all, but you should be wearing sunscreen the correct way.
MYTH 5: Darker Skin Tones Do Not Need Sunscreen
One of the most popular responses I got when I advised my darker-hued friends and acquaintances to wear sunscreen was that they didn’t need to wear any because their melanin provided enough protection. That assumption is false. While it’s true that darker skin tends to age better due to factors like the amount of eumelanin produced, and Black people, in particular, possessing a kind of collagen that is more resistant to sun damage, everyone should be wearing sunscreen.
MYTH 6: You Don’t Need Sunscreen Indoors
UV rays might not be able to penetrate wood and concrete, but they certainly can pass through glass. If you live or work in a space that gets a lot of sunlight, you’re still susceptible to sun damage, especially if you spend a significant amount of time by a window. Wear sunscreen even on the days when you’re indoors, and remember to reapply for every two hours of exposure.
MYTH 7: All Sunscreens Are Essentially the Same
This is certainly not the case. Some sunscreens use physical (or inorganic) UV filters, meaning that they typically feature titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both. Physical sunscreens generally work by reflecting sunlight away from the skin to prevent damage, and start to work immediately. Chemical (or organic) sunscreens contain UV filters like avobenzone and oxybenzone, and work by absorbing UV rays before they can penetrate the skin. These work best when applied 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. Don’t forget to check for the words “broad-spectrum” to ensure that your suncare product will adequately protect your skin from both UVA rays and UVB rays.
MYTH 8: All Sunscreens Leave a White Cast on Darker Skin
This might have been the case a few years ago, but increased awareness of proper sunscreen use and protests by consumers have slightly expanded the selection of good sunscreen products that don’t leave a white cast on anyone darker than Tilda Swinton. Some examples are Black Girl Sunscreen, Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen, and Lancôme’s Youth Shield Milky Bright Ultimate Multi-Protection SPF 50 PA++++. If you’re a fan of Japanese and Korean sunscreen, brands like KAO Biore, Shiseido, A’Pieu, and CosRX make sunscreen products that offer protection without the cost of a ghostly visage.
MYTH 9: Sunscreen Absorbs Into Your Bloodstream & Is Toxic
In 2019, there was a bit of a flurry about the danger that sunscreen could pose to general health. It came after the FDA released the results of a study about the absorption of four common chemical/organic sunscreen ingredients into the bloodstream. The media reports on this issue irresponsibly inflamed panic in the general population, even though the results of the FDA study were not new or damning. As the FDA itself stated, “The fact that an ingredient is absorbed through the skin and into the body does not mean the ingredient is unsafe.” (A good breakdown of what the study really means, from a chemist’s point of view, can be found here.) As the FDA continues to study the issue further, it strongly advises sunscreen use, given the recognized public health benefit.
MYTH 10: You Can Make Your Own Sunscreen at Home
For the love of all things that are good, please do not attempt to make your own sunscreen at home. Effective sunscreen needs to be tested properly by someone who knows what they are doing. Good sunscreen also needs to contain the proper ingredients, such as avobenzone or zinc oxide, not carrot seed oil, shea butter, or any other untested “natural sunscreen.” The level of damage that could occur from using ineffective products isn’t worth the gamble, so stick to the tried-and-true formulas.
What other sunscreen myths have you heard that you wish would go away?