Dispelling Common Myths About Sunscreen

You may not always like slathering yourself in sunscreen but it’s crucial for protecting your skin against the sun’s damaging rays that cause wrinkles, sun spots and skin cancer.

You may know the basic facts about sunscreen but you may have questions about when you need to apply it, how much to use, and what kind of sunscreen you should buy. Victoria Wang, MD , a dermatologist at Mission Heritage Medical Group , sets the record straight.

Myth #1: When it’s cloudy, you don’t need to wear sunscreen.

Even in the winter, I still encourage sunscreen use in my patients.Why? Even with cloud cover, UVB rays – which cause skin damage, sun burns and skin cancer pass through the clouds.

Myth #2: Makeup with SPF will protect me from the sun.

Makeup these days often includes SPF, which is great. But most have SPF 15. A sunscreen with SPF 30is best. If you’re wearing makeup and sunscreen, put your sunscreen on first.

Myth #3: The best sunscreen is the one with the highest SPF.

I have many patients who tell me they use SPF 100 or higher. The reality is that the added benefit from higher SPF actually plateaus as you get higher in number. SPF 15 filters 94 percent of UVB rays. SPF 30 filters 97 percent. Any higher than SPF 30 is the law of diminishing returns.

Myth #4: The sun is necessary for Vitamin D, so sunscreen must be dangerous.

Clearly Vitamin D is important, but getting it from the sun is only one of the ways to meet daily Vitamin D requirements. Because sunscreen decreases skin cancer risk, I recommend a daily dose of 1000IU of Vitamin D3 from diet or supplements especially if you’re vigilant about sunscreen, live in certain areas of the country, or are obese, elderly, housebound or photosensitive. Given the benefits of sunscreen, it’s best to get your Vitamin D food or supplements.

Myth #5: You only need to put on sunscreen once if you’re swimming.

There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. In fact, one of the new FDA regulations is that sunscreen makers can no longer label their sunscreen as “waterproof.” Sunscreens can now be labeled “water-resistant” instead. Sunscreen does wash off in the pool and even with sweat. I recommend reappli­cation after swimming, sweating, toweling off and every two hours.

Myth #6: The best way to apply sunscreen is to apply it every morning.

Again, I would emphasize reapplication. Sunscreen wears off after only two hours. So if you’re putting it on before work, you’re not protected on the way as you leave for lunch or on your drive home.

Myth#7: Sunscreen is toxic.

It is true that several chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the bloodstream and found in the urine. There are no studies that show there are negative effects from this, though.. But if you’re concerned, stick with the physical blockers: zinc and titanium.

Myth #8: Sunscreen causes skin cancer.

This myth started with a few studies that showed that people who wore sunscreen had a false sense of security, stayed out longer in the sun, and had increased skin cancer rates. Also some patients use sunscreen as tanning aids. These patients are at higher risk for skin cancer. Another explanation is that melanoma can be inherited and is not always prevented with sunscreen use.

Sunscreen use is important all year round. Other ways to avoid UV damage include covering up with broad-rim hats, sunglasses, long sleeves, and pants. Also, be sure to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and find shade whenever you can.

For more information about Dr. Wang, click here, for more information about Mission Heritage Medical Group, click here.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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