Debunking Myths about Sunscreen

As the days lengthen and the temperature warms, people are spending more time outside and protecting themselves from the sun’s rays.

It’s time to separate fact from fiction when it comes to sunscreen.

Myth: Sunscreen lasts all day.

Fact: Sunscreen needs to be continually reapplied throughout the day. Dr. Carolyn Jacob, MD, Founder and Medical Director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, says this is the top myth she wishes she could dispel once and for all.

People should reapply sunscreen every two hours and also after swimming, excessive sweating, or toweling off, according to Dr. Bethanee Schlosser, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Northwestern University and Director of the Women’s Skin Health Program in the Department of Dermatology of Northwestern Medical Group.

Myth: All sunscreen protects you from all the sun’s rays.

Fact: The sun emits both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays cause tanning, wrinkling and premature aging, and UVB rays cause sunburns. UVA rays not only penetrate deeper, they also pass through window glass and clouds.

“I like zinc oxide as an active ingredient,” Dr. Jacob says. “It helps to block UVA rays as well as UVB rays.”

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that sunscreen has broad-spectrum protection, meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays, and has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or greater.

Myth: All sunscreen brands are the same.

Fact: Dermatologists have favorite brands that they prefer.

For sunscreens specifically made for use on the face, Dr. Schlosser’s recommendations includeNeutrogena Sensitive Skin SPF 30 and SPF 60, L’Oréal RevitaLift UV with Mexoryl SX, andAnthelios with Mexoryl SX.

EltaMD, Neutrogena and RoC are Dr. Jacob’s favorite sunscreen brands.

Myth: You do not need to wear sunscreen on a road trip because you are sitting in a car, not going outside.

Fact: Dr. Jacob said she recommends wearing sunscreen every day, and “especially when riding in the car because UVA rays come through window glass.”

Myth: Sunscreen is the only form of protection available.

Fact: People often forget that wearing long sleeves is one way to protect skin, as is wearing a hat. Dr. Schlosser recommends hats with wide brims of at least three inches all the way around to shade not just the face and scalp but also to protect the ears, neck, shoulders and upper back. She says bucket, outback and tightly woven straw hats are much better than baseball caps and sun visors. We love this stylish, sun-protective clothing.

Skin cancer also can form on the lips so you need to protect those, too. Dr. Schlosser recommends a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Myth: I’m ready to head outside immediately after applying sunscreen. 

Fact: Dr. Schlosser advises applying sunscreen at least 30 minutes prior to going into the sun to allow for absorption of the sunscreen into the skin. Lip balm should also be applied half an hour before heading outside.

Myth: Powdered sunscreens are not as effective.

Fact: Powdered sunscreen is relatively new on the market, and while some consumers swear by it, others wonder if it provides sufficient protection. Dr. Jacob likes the powdered sunscreen options.

“They are great and good for reapplication,” she says, although she cautioned, “They are not enough if you’re outdoors exercising in the sun.”

Myth: Spray sunscreen is a great idea.

Fact: While this myth is not completely debunked, the FDA is currently investigating the risks of accidental inhalation of spray sunscreens. Avoid spraying it around the face, particularly near the mouth and nose.