Five Sunscreen Myths Exposed by Research

Everyone needs sunscreen, no matter how dark you are. 90% of melanomas are caused by UV radiation and sunscreen is the one of the best methods of sun protection. In addition, sunscreen also prevents sunburn, hyperpigmentation such as melasma or the re-darkening of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and acts to reduce aging due to UV radiation.

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Sunscreen is everyone’s friend. However, with so many ‘new studies’ on sunscreen usage and realized sun protection factors (SPF) it can be hard to tell what’s true about sunscreen, so here’s an exposé on five sunscreen myths:

Myth #1: You only use sunscreen to prevent sunburn.

Truth: Sunscreen is important for everyone to use to prevent skin cancer. In addition to reducing chances of skin cancer sunscreen is also the best anti-aging product on the market. I stand by it, I said what I said. The sun is the #1 factor in skin aging due to it’s ability to produce free radicals that tear up skin support structures like collagen and elastin over time. By applying sunscreen regularly you prevent the sun’s ability to produce these annoying molecules and protect skin support structures. If that wasn’t enough, sunscreen also prevents the darkening of skin scars, spots and post-acne marks. A major key to ensuring your dark spots go away and stay away.

Myth #2: You only need sunscreen when it’s sunny outside or on the beach.

Truth: UV rays reach the ground all year, even on cloudy or hazy days. The effect of clouds can vary; sometimes cloud cover blocks some UV from the sun and lowers (not eliminates) UV exposure, while some types of clouds can reflect UV and can increase UV exposure. What is important to know is that UV rays can and do get through, even on a cloudy day. Think your safe on a snowy cloudy day? Think again. UV rays can bounce off surfaces like water, sand, snow, pavement, or grass, and lead to an increase in UV exposure. The sun is everywhere, wear your sunscreen, as appropriate.

Myth #3: You don’t have to re-apply mineral (inorganic) sunscreen.

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Truth: You have to re-apply all sunscreen. Over time all sunscreen dries, wipes off and sweats off. The particles in your zinc oxide will and do break down and you are going to need to put more sunscreen on.

Myth #4: Sunscreen is the only and best way to protect yourself from the sun.

Truth: The truth is, covering up the skin is much better protection than sunscreen. A long-brimmed hat and clothing will protect the skin better than any sunscreen. But this could cause you to overheat in very hot temperatures and you wouldn’t want to cover up at the beach. Reasons why sunscreen could be a better option in certain scenarios, and think about your face, I wouldn’t recommend wearing a mask outside. Still, sunscreen isn’t the only way to protect yourself from the sun. Simply staying in the shade is one of the best ways to limit your UV exposure. This is particularly important between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when UV light is strongest. However, don’t become a couch potato, sun is an important source of Vitamin D production for people of color and it would be unwise to stay inside if it would keep you from being active, because physical activity is important for good health.

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Myth #5: All mineral (inorganic) sunscreens leave a white cast.

Truth: False, it really depends on the particle size of the mineral sunscreen used. The smaller the particle size the better for reducing the appearance of a white cast. However, it wouldn’t be life if it didn’t come with tradeoffs. The replacement of microsized TiO2 and ZnO particles by nanoparticles ensures the cosmetically desired sunscreen transparency, but at the expense of broad UVA protection.  Another recent study mentions that smaller particles size, think nano, should be studied due to potential photo-carcinogenicity of nanoparticles in sunscreen. The verdict is still out and there’s probably no need for concern but just an example that ‘mineral’ and ‘natural’ doesn’t necessarily equal safe.