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Sunscreen Myths and Facts

Do you believe these sunscreen myths?
Do you believe these sunscreen myths?

Sunscreen is an important defense against skin cancer and as a bonus, it helps keep you looking younger. The problem is there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding it's effectiveness and how to use it. Here are some of the biggest myths people still believe about sunscreen.

Myth: The darker your skin, the less sunscreen you need.

Fact: Darker skin produces more melanin, which is a natural protectant against the sun. However, that doesn't mean you can skip the sunscreen. Even small amounts of exposure can cause premature skin aging and wrinkles. What's worse is that it's often harder to spot the early signs of cancer on darker skin. Get regular checks by a dermatologist and wear your sunscreen, no matter what color your skin is.

Myth: People who don't burn easily can wear sunscreen with a lower Sun Protection Factor (SPF), such as SPF 10 or 15.

Fact: The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) released a statement on May 22, 2019 that said: “To protect your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer, the AAD recommends that everyone seek shade; wear protective clothing, including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses; and generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to exposed skin.”

Myth: You can use a tanning bed to get a protective “base tan.”

Fact: There is no such thing as a protective tan. All tans are damage to your skin. The darker the tan, the more damage your skin has experienced. The longer you're exposed to those damaging rays, the greater your risk for developing skin cancer. Cover up with clothing and higher SPF sunscreen to reduce your risk.

Myth: You can put on a layer of SPF 20 sunscreen and a layer of SPF 30 sunscreen to get the same protection as an SPF 50 sunscreen.

Fact: Layering on two different strengths of sunscreen make it only as strong as the one with the highest SPF. Applying two coats of SPF 20 won't suddenly give you the protection of SPF 40. It's just a thicker coat of SPF 20.

Myth: Putting on a higher SPF sunscreen means you don't have to reapply it as often.

Fact: Sunscreen loses its protection over time. It comes off in water, it drips off in sweat and light breaks it down fairly quickly. You should reapply sunscreen every 2-4 hours to stay protected, regardless of the SPF value. If you're in the water a lot and especially active, put it on more frequently.

Myth: Natural products like coconut oil are strong enough to protect you.

Fact: Sunscreens are tested and certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They must pass rigorous standardized tests to prove the SPF levels they advertise.

In 2016 the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Florida ran a study called, “UV-blocking potential of oils and juices.” Experiments were conducted on canola oil, citronella oil, coconut oil, olive oil, soya bean oil, vitamin E, as well as aloe vera. The researchers found that the SPF for those products was only about 1. Similar testing by other labs put the SPF at between 1 and 8 for natural oils, far below the SPF 30 that should be considered the minimum acceptable level.

Myth: Makeup is enough to protect me.

Fact: Makeup has wide ranges of sun protecting abilities. Some creams and moisturizers have an SPF rating of 30, while others may barely reach an SPF of 5. Plus, makeup is not typically applied over all exposed skin surfaces. Just putting a little moisturizing cream on your face does nothing to protect your neck, arms, legs or any other exposed body parts. Think of makeup as an additional layer of protection, not the primary protector.

The ultimate form of protection is clothing. There are three important things you should consider.

Type of cloth: Cloth that's more densely woven like canvas, denim, synthetic fibers or wool are better protectors than thin or loosely woven cloth. Hold the cloth up to the light. If you can easily see light through the fabric, UV rays from the sun can penetrate and hit your skin.

How things fit: Loose fitting clothing is a better choice. When something is tight, it stretches and the fibers pull away from each other. That leaves small gaps that UV rays can penetrate and hit your skin.

What activities you'll be engaged in: If the clothing you wear gets stretched or wet, it's protective abilities drop. Keep activities in mind when choosing clothing to provide maximum protection.

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