When warm weather hits, sun protection ads, products and warnings come into full bloom, but despite all we think we know about sun care, misinformation still abounds. When you consider that 80 percent of wrinkles are caused by UV exposure and, according to the American Cancer Society, there are more new cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined, it makes good sense to know the facts.
“I believe skin cancer is speaking for itself,” says Dr. Deborah Longwill, dermatologist at the Miami Center for Dermatology in Miami. “People are definitely more aware than in the past, but we just have to keep talking, telling and educating.”
Myth #1: All sunscreens are made equal.
Truth: There are two primary groups of SPF products: those with chemical actives to absorb UV rays and those with mineral actives to physically block them. Sunscreen with SPF protects from UVB rays only—the rays that cause sunburn and cancer, while a broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVB and UVA rays—the rays associated with premature aging and melanoma. “It’s important to select a sunscreen that has both UVB and UVA protection,” says Dr. Longwill. “Choose a sunscreen containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which protect against the full spectrum of UVA rays.”
TRY: True Natural Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Caribbean Coconut Sunscreen, $19.99, truenatural.com
Myth #2: The damage is already done by the time you’re 18.
Truth: Sun damage happens steadily causing brown spots, wrinkles and skin cancers through one’s life. “Many people do get a lot of sun exposure before age 18, but it does not mean the damage is done,” says Dr. Longwill. To help reverse the effects, look to creams with natural hydroquinone-alternatives like plant actives (ie., licorice extract, seaweed extracts), vitamin C creams and anti-inflammatory botanical oils.
Myth #3: Applying sunscreen in the morning will get you through the day.
Truth: “After two to three hours on the skin, every sunscreen is no longer working,” says Dr. Justin Piasecki, board-certified plastic surgeon at the Harbor Plastic Surgery Center and founder of The Skin Cancer Center in Gig Harbor, Washington. “It needs to be reapplied every two to three hours, or after swimming—whichever comes first.” Invest in sun-protective clothing, sunglasses and hats for added benefits. “No sunscreen completely blocks out the sun,” Piasecki adds. “Don’t use the application of sunscreen as an excuse to do whatever you like outside all day long. If you’re outside, you’re being radiated, so use common sense.”
TRY: Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40, $16.99, kissmyface.com
Myth #4: The higher the SPF number, the better you’re protected.
Truth: SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor” and the number refers to how long you can stay in the sun before getting burned. SPF exclusively protects against UVB rays and only a small amount of extra protection is yielded when increasing the SPF number. “There are diminishing returns once you go into the high SPFs,” says Dan Signorelli, founder of Vivesana. “It’s misleading because people who buy screens with SPFs at 60 or even 100 get a false sense of protection, but in fact, the added protection is insignificant and they may become less concerned about reapplication.”
TRY: Vivesana Solar to Polar Ultra Natural Sunscreen SPF 40, $29, vivesana.com
Myth #5: Using last year’s sunscreen is perfectly OK.
Truth: Sunscreens are designed to remain stable and at original strength for three years, according to Mayo Clinic, however, natural sunscreens expire sooner. How you store it can also greatly impact how quickly the chemical actives in sunscreens degrade. “If a sunscreen has been left on a hot dashboard, the sunscreen may not be good, even though it’s within the expiration date,” says Signorelli. “The active chemicals can also degrade without any signs of discoloration or off-scents, so people have no way of knowing they’re not getting the protection they think they are.” Be sure to store sunscreen in a cool dark place.
TRY: OM4 Sun Secure Mineral SPF 30, $69, om4men.com
Myth #6: The SPF in daily makeup is enough to protect the face, lips and eye area.
Truth: Although many makeup products contain SPF, they do not provide enough coverage to protect the skin in the summer at the beach when the sun is at its strongest. “Any type of make-up, even with SPF, must be used in conjunction with sunscreen,” Longwill says. “After applying sunscreen liberally over the face, neck and ears, a light foundation or tinted moisturizer with SPF may be applied.” Longwill encourages the use SPF eye cream on the thin, delicate skin around the eyes, and SPF protection on the lips, since these areas are highly prone to wrinkles.
Myth #7: With sunscreen, you won’t get enough vitamin D.
Truth: To get adequate vitamin D, one needs only 40 to 60 minutes of sun a week, and that pertains to small areas of the body. “Getting adequate vitamin D is done without even thinking about it,” says Longwill. “If you look at your sunscreen, it probably says to apply 20 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. If you apply it right before going out, you are already getting sufficient amounts.” Certain foods—salmon, cod, eggs, shiitake mushrooms—will also give you an added vitamin D boost.
TRY: Coola Face SPF 20 Unscented Face, $36, coolasuncare.com
Myth #8: Sunscreen is only necessary outdoors on sunny days.
Truth: Whether it’s morning, night or a cool, cloudy day, sunscreen is crucial. “UV rays refract off of clouds and do nearly the same damage as on a bright sunny day,” says Signorelli. “If you’re on the water or snow, or even at a high altitude, the strength of the rays is actually magnified.”
TRY: Badger Broad Spectrum SPF 35 All-Season Face Stick, $8.49, badgerbalm.com
Myth #9: Nothing can protect your hair from sun damage.
Truth: If you plan to let your locks fly without a hat or scarf, it’s important to have a damage-control strategy in place. “The top layer of our hair that is exposed to the elements gets much more of a thrashing than the hair underneath,” says Melissa Tornay, co-owner of Primrose Organics Salon in Los Angeles. “Being out in the sun, in chlorine, salt water and wind causes split ends and weak, dry, brittle hair.” Moisturize hair with a leave-in conditioner or sun protection spray to defend against further damage and repair the keratin that is susceptible to weakening.
TRY: Cabella Anti-Aging Organic Leave-In Conditioner, $25, amazon.com
Myth #10: A sun burn does more damage than a sun tan.
Truth: A sun burn and a sun tan are in fact the same thing: skin damage caused by UV radiation. “A burn is due to more over exposure to UVB radiation, which is also to blame for skin cancers,“ says Longwill. “A tan is produced from the deeper rays of UVA radiation. However, too long exposure of either type of sun radiation may have equal result of skin damage.”
TRY: Previse SunSheer Broad Spectrum SPF 25 mineral-based sunscreen, $36; previsecare.com