- The article emphasizes the importance of understanding the different types of UV radiation (UVA, UVB, UVC) and their effects on the skin. UVA and UVB rays are harmful and contribute to skin cancer, while UVC rays are blocked by the ozone layer.
- It debunks several sunscreen myths, such as the belief that higher SPF offers double protection, sunscreen lasts forever, and babies need extra sunscreen. It also clarifies that broad-spectrum sunscreens protecting against both UVA and UVB rays are necessary, and FDA-approved sunscreens are safe.
- The article dispels the myth that sunscreen causes cancer, explaining that it is prolonged or frequent exposure to harmful UV rays that can lead to skin cancer, not the sunscreen itself.
- It also clarifies misconceptions about waterproof sunscreen not needing frequent reapplication and the necessity of sunscreen even in winter due to reflective UV rays from snow.
- The article concludes by recommending the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30, which is water-resistant, and suggests considering a reef-safe sunscreen if you are at a beach.
“Don’t forget your sunscreen!” You can probably remember hearing your mom yell this as you dart out the back door as a child. You know sunscreen is important, but what you may not know is not all sunscreen is created equal. Below we debunk common sunscreen myths and break down everything you need to know about choosing the right sunscreen for you.
To understand how sunscreen works and how to find the ones that will work well, you need to be familiar with the different types of UV radiation.
The ABCs of UV Radiation
- UVA rays are the most common and most dangerous rays, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. This type of UV penetrates deep down to the middle layers of the skin, which makes this UV known for causing wrinkles and contributing to the development of skin cancer.
- UVB rays have the greatest effect on the outer layer of the skin, notes the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. These rays are responsible for that painful lobster-red sunburn. They are also a big player in skin cancer development.
- UVC is the most powerful type of ultraviolet radiation—fortunately, it doesn’t penetrate the ozone layer, so you’re safe from this type of radiation, reports the University of Pittsburgh. That said, sunscreen brands with “UVC protection” on their labels may be misinformed, so be wary.
Now that you know the difference, let’s debunk some common myths about sun protection.
Common Myths About Sunscreen
Myth: Double the SPF Means Double the Protection
SPF 100 is not twice as effective as SPF 50. In fact, above SPF 50, you won’t be getting that much-added protection from your sunscreen, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Regardless of SPF, you should follow the bottles instructions for how often to reapply it. Usually, this is around every 60-90 minutes.
Myth: Sunscreen Lasts Forever
The FDA requires all sunscreen to last for at least 3 years, but you should make it a habit to double-check the expiration date. If your bottle doesn’t have an expiration date, write the date of purchase on it.
Myth: Babies Need Extra Sunscreen
The American Academy of Dermatology encourages parents to keep babies 6 months and younger out of direct sunlight instead of using sunscreen. Consider finding shade, or using hats or canopies to protect your little ones from the sun.
Myth: UVA Protection is Enough
The ABCs of UV radiation teach us that you need protection from both UVB and UVA rays. The CDC recommends using sunscreens that are “broad spectrum”, meaning they protect against both harmful UV rays.
Myth: Chemical Sunscreens Are Scary
According to the AAD, FDA-approved sunscreens are safe and do a fantastic job of minimizing your risk of developing skin cancer.
Myth: Sunscreen causes cancer
The Cleveland Clinic says it best—there is no evidence to suggest that any FDA-approved sunscreens cause cancer. However, prolonged or frequent exposure to harmful UV rays can damage skin cells and lead to skin cancer.
Myth: Waterproof sunscreen doesn’t need to be reapplied as often
Although there are several “waterproof” sunscreen products, it is important to note that they are only waterproof for a short time. Most label instructions will explain that reapplication is necessary after a certain amount of time to keep a strong level of protection.
Myth: You don’t need sunscreen in the winter
The AAD explains that although the weather is cooler and there may be more clouds in the sky, sunscreen is as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Popular winter activities like skiing and snowboarding can actually raise your risk of sunburn because UV rays can reflect off of snow similar to how it reflects off the water in the summer.
Well, there you have it! You’re almost an expert in sunscreen! The last piece of information you need is this: The Skin Cancer Foundation and Mayo Clinic both recommend that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. You’ll also want water-resistant sunscreen, especially if you are around any type of water (and you may want to consider a reef-safe sunscreen if you are at a beach).
Need to compare sunscreen options? Check out this list of best sunscreens for 2023 by the New York Times.
Frequently asked questions
What are the different types of UV radiation and how do they affect the skin?There are three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin's middle layers and are known for causing wrinkles and contributing to skin cancer. UVB rays affect the skin's outer layer, causing sunburn and also contributing to skin cancer. UVC rays are the most powerful but do not penetrate the ozone layer, so they do not pose a risk to our skin.
Is double the SPF equivalent to double the protection?No, SPF 100 is not twice as effective as SPF 50. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, above SPF 50, the increase in protection is minimal. Regardless of SPF, sunscreen should be reapplied every 60-90 minutes as per the instructions on the bottle.
Does sunscreen have an expiration date?Yes, the FDA requires all sunscreen to last for at least 3 years. However, it's a good practice to check the expiration date on the bottle. If it doesn't have one, write the date of purchase on it.
Do babies need extra sunscreen?No, the American Academy of Dermatology advises against using sunscreen on babies 6 months and younger. Instead, they should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected by shade, hats, or canopies.
Is protection from UVA rays enough?No, protection from both UVA and UVB rays is necessary. The CDC recommends using "broad spectrum" sunscreens, which protect against both types of harmful UV rays.
Are chemical sunscreens safe?Yes, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, FDA-approved sunscreens are safe and effective at minimizing the risk of developing skin cancer.
Does sunscreen cause cancer?No, there is no evidence to suggest that FDA-approved sunscreens cause cancer. However, prolonged or frequent exposure to harmful UV rays can lead to skin cancer.
Is sunscreen necessary in the winter?Yes, sunscreen is as important in the winter as it is in the summer. The American Academy of Dermatology explains that UV rays can reflect off of snow, similar to how they reflect off water in the summer, increasing the risk of sunburn.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- Sunscreen FAQs. (July 13, 2023)
- Infant Sun Protection: How Parents Can Keep Their Baby Safe. (July 13, 2023)
- Does High SPF Protect My Skin Better? (July 13, 2023)
- Shining the Light on SPF. (July 13, 2023)
- Is Sunscreen Bad For you? (July 13, 2023)
- Why You Need Sun Protection in the Winter. (July 13, 2023)