Summer is just around the corner, and dermatologists are reminding everyone to use a sunscreen to avoid harmful DNA damage from the sun’s UV rays. Unfortunately, despite sun safety efforts, many of us will only lather on sunscreen when we go to the beach or participate in outdoor activities. Chances are we don’t know everything about protecting our skin from sun damage and tend to believe sunscreen myths we hear through the grapevine.
With more than 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed annually in over two million people, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), it’s essential that we know how to apply sunscreen to protect ourselves from UV damage. Continuous sun exposure without sunscreen makes you susceptible to premature aging, which leads to wrinkles. It’s time to debunk the most common sun protection myths to practice sun safety all year long.
Myth #1: You don’t need sunscreen if it’s cool or cloudy outside.
False: Applying sun cream is necessary even on cloudy days, while driving in a vehicle or sitting in an office. “[T]hese rays can penetrate through these types of environments,” said Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, a clinical dermatologist in Fruitland, Idaho, to Medical Daily. Forty percent of the sun’s UV rays can actually pass through clouds, says SFC, which helps explain why people often have serious sunburns on overcast days if they spent a consider amount of time outside with no sun protection.
Myth #2: You don’t need to worry about sunscreen if you have dark skin.
False: In African-American skin, melanin — the pigment that gives skin and eyes their color — provides a sun protection factor (SPF) approximately 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin. Although people with more pigmentation in their skin tend to have a lower skin cancer risk, this doesn’t mean they’re immune to it. A 2006 study found dark-skinned people are more likely than whites to die from skin cancer and its related complications as its more aggressive and diagnosed in its later stages. Moreover, even if you have a dark complexion, you could have genes that make you more susceptible to skin cancer.
Myth #3: It’s OK to use last year’s sunscreen bottle.
False: It’s important to look at the expiration date because contrary to popular belief, sunscreen does expire. “After a certain period of time sunscreen breaks down and becomes far less effective,” Dr. Jayshri Gamoth, a dermatologist in Mesa, Ariz., told Medical Daily. Sunscreen that is fresh, which can be only a couple of weeks old or less, is more likely to hold true to its SPF rating at the time. It’s best to store a sunscreen at room temperature and to not expose it to extreme heat like a hot car, as this can cause the product to break down more easily.
Myth #4: The higher the SPF the better.
False: While an SPF higher than 30 may catch our eyes, especially those with sensitive skin, more doesn’t necessarily translate to better. Although it’s assumed an SPF 50 product (blocks 98 percent of rays) would provide more sun protection than an SPF 100 (blocks 99 percent of rays), the difference is only one percent, says the Environmental Working Group. In theory, they do block slightly more ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, but they do not offer 100 percent protection. Choosing a higher sunscreen may offer a safety margin for those who do not apply enough sunscreen, but this does not hold any true significance compared to lower SPFs.
Myth #5: Applying sunscreen on to your face, arms, and legs will suffice.
False: When it comes to sun safety, you need to pay close attention to every part of your body. Melanoma can form in areas where the sun doesn’t shine directly. “I've seen those abnormal moles between the toes and fingers and on plenty of behinds,” Gamoth said. She cautions if you see anything kind of mole is out of the ordinary, don't take chances, and see your dermatologist immediately.
Gabriela Santana-Blackburn, an executive director of esthetics and teacher training at Tricoci University of Beauty Culture, suggests placing emphasis behind the ears, on the back of the neck, and scalp. These areas can be extremely vulnerable to the sun’s UV rays because we tend to forget about them. Santana-Blackburn suggests told Medical Daily, “[W]ear a protective hat or apply sunscreen on your part line or everywhere if you have sparse hair. Spray-on sunscreen makes this application easier."
Myth #6: Chemicals in sunscreen are more dangerous than skipping sun protection.
False: Consumers should take precautions when buying sunscreen, being on the lookout for these two ingredients: avobenzone and oxybenzone. Avobenzone is not stable and tends to break down once formulated and when it neutralizes UV rays on the skin. Oxybenzone products are absorbed through the skin, and the chemical has been demonstrated to be a hormone disruptor. However, Dr. Jeffery Benabio, a board-certified dermatologist and the physician director of Healthcare Transformation at Kaiser Permanente, suggests customers who want to avoid those sunscreens should do so, but emphasized not using sunscreen is far more dangerous than exposure to its ingredients, The Active Times reported.
Myth #7: 80 percent of sun damage occurs before the age of 18.
False: Contrary to popular belief, we get less than 25 percent of our total lifetime sun exposure before age 18, according to a 2003 study. This calculation was based on the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancers being associated to the square of the UV dose. What this means is that we get most of our sun damage later on in life, suggesting adults should also lather up on sunscreen and wear protective clothing whenever they’re outdoors. Santana-Blackburn acknowledges most people do not realize they must apply one ounce of SPF for proper coverage on an average-sized adult.
Remember to practice sun safety this summer, and always use a sunscreen rain or shine to protect your skin from DNA damage from UV rays.