8 Myths About Sunscreen
Most people think that sunscreen protects them from the sun. The truth is, it’s only half of the truth. Let’s take a look at eight common myths. Then, we’ll provide a simple solution to keep your face and skin young-looking and healthy from Memorial Day to Labor Day!
Myth #1: Got SPF, Got Protection…Not So Much!
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect skin from short-wave UVB rays, which usually burn the superficial layers of your skin and plays a vital role in the development of skin cancer. But SPF does not measure how well a sunscreen will protect from long wave UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer. Unprotected exposure to UVA can lead to premature skin aging, wrinkling and suppression of the immune system because it damages DNA, collagen, elastin fibers, dermal blood vessels, and other structures. UVA is around everywhere, every day; it can penetrate through window glass, and it is unfiltered by the ozone, unlike UVB.
Myth #2: SPF 15 Means 15X’s the protection…Nope!
Most people think that if your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, applying an SPF 15 sunscreen allows you to stay in the sun without burning for 150 minutes (a factor of 15 times longer). The truth is that SPF is actually a measure of protection from the amount of UVB exposure and not a way to calculate a safe duration of exposure. Here’s what SPF really means:
- SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
Myth #3: The higher the SPF, the better—Nada, again!
As you can see, after SPF 30, there isn’t a high return on investment. Sunscreen marketers like to give you a false sense of security by offering high numbers like SPF 100+, but it’s all fake news. The facts are that most scientists recommend using a minimum of SPF 15 and a maximum of SPF 30. There is no real benefit to anything higher.
Myth #4: It’s on, I’m good! Sort of…
In order to reap the full effects of sunscreen, the amount you use and reapplication are critical since sunscreen gets diluted by sweat, washes off in the water and gets absorbed by the body. The proper amount is:
1 Oz = 1 Body = Every 2 hours
That’s the equivalent of one full shot glass! Most people completely under-apply sunscreen, using ¼ to ½ the amount. Unfortunately, that amount is equivalent to SPF 5 which pretty much welcomes 99% of the UVB rays to penetrate your skin.
Myth #5: Every Sunscreen is Broad Spectrum
The FDA will only allow brands to feature “broad-spectrum protection” on their packaging if the UVA protection meets at least 1/3 of the UVB protection. High SPF sunscreens usually offer far greater UVB than UVA protection, thus providing a false sense of full protection. To be officially deemed “Broad Spectrum,” your sunscreen must cover a minimum of 370 nm.
Myth #6: Sunscreen is waterproof—not anymore!
Sunscreens must satisfy rigorous testing to prove it is effective after submersion in water. Recent tests show that sunscreens are not waterproof. Therefore, you will only see one of two ratings on your sunscreen (or none at all): Water Resistant (40 Minutes) or Water Resistant (80 Minutes) which literally means you cannot expect the product to work after that amount of time in the water.
Myth #7: Classic and Mineral Sunscreens are equal–not so much!
How they work: Use chemical active ingredients designed to change the UVA/UVB rays into heat and then, it releases the heat from the body.
Avoid any sunscreens with Oxybenzone, assigned an 8 (out of 10) hazard score by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) because of skin penetration, hormone disruption, and allergy problems. Instead, EWG recommends chemical products that contain the active ingredient Avobenzone which ranks a low-hazard of 2 (out of 10).
Cons: 1) Studies show classics can cause an increase in existing brown spots and discoloration (since it brings the skin to a higher internal skin temperature) and 2) these sunscreens require about 20 minutes after application before it begins to work.
How they work: Use “physical” active ingredients such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide which lay on your skin like a shield and scatter and reflect UVA/UVB rays.
Pros: 1) Mineral active ingredients don’t break down as readily in the sun, offering greater protection for longer; 2) You can apply and go…it works immediately.
Cons: They don’t blend into the skin as well as chemical sunscreens. Thus, your skin often has “a filmy” look and feel.
Myth #8: Burns only happen when it’s hot
The intensity of UVB rays peak between the hours of 10am-4pm, but if you’re in high altitude regions or closer to the equator, you’ll need protection all day long. Also keep in mind that UVA rays are everywhere, all day long. So even if you don’t burn, you can still damage your skin more permanently without adequate protection.
Bottom Line: Keep the fun in being in the sun by using a broad-spectrum, SPF 15-30 water-resistant sunscreen. It’s up to you whether you use mineral or chemical, just make sure you lather-up, apply, reapply and reapply again. Sun protective UVA/UVB clothing, hats and sunglasses are easy to find and quite stylish nowadays. Lastly, your face will thank you if you use SPF 15 every single day, regardless of the season and even when you are not planning to be outdoors. Take an extra minute each day to protect yourself. Your skin will look young and healthy for as long as you live, like my 100-year-old grandma!
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.