These 6 Sunscreen Myths Could Be Ruining Your Skin

Wendy Rodewald
These 6 Sunscreen Myths Could Be Ruining Your Skin
Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Think getting a base tan will protect your skin? Or that you need to bake in the sun to soak up vitamin D? Think again. We asked Dr. Meghan O’Brien, a board certified dermatologist specializing in comprehensive medical and cosmetic dermatology at Tribeca Park Dermatology in New York City, to give us the lowdown on six surprising sunscreen myths. Even we were shocked at some the things Dr. O’Brien told us. Believe us when we say you’re going to want to read these sunscreen facts and adjust your routine accordingly.

Myth: It’s a good idea to get a base tan before spending time in the sun

“Any type of tan is a sign of sun damage, as the pigment producing cells in the skin tan to protect themselves from further sun exposure. Having a base tan is the equivalent to wearing an SPF of 4 or less (and you’ve damaged your skin to get it!) so you’ll be much better off skipping the base tan and applying a higher SPF to protect your skin from a burn.”

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Myth: I apply sunscreen in the morning, so I’m protected when I head out for lunch

“Applying a daily SPF in the morning will protect you from incidental sun exposure throughout the day. However, if you are planning to have lunch outside, go for a walk in a park or if your commute includes sun exposure, I recommend reapplying again with a powder-based or spray SPF that can be applied without having to redo makeup.”

Myth: My dark skin doesn’t burn, so I don’t really need sunscreen

“Skin cancer may be less common in darker skin types, but it still occurs—for instance, the Jamaican singer Bob Marley had melanoma on his foot! Further, wearing sunscreen protects all skin tones from photoaging. That’s why I still recommend daily SPF to all my patients.”

Myth: As a kid, I got sunburned all the time. It doesn’t matter what I do now, since my skin’s already damaged

“It is true that much of our sun exposure occurs before the age of 20, however, UV damage is cumulative. Damage accrued over the course of many years can cause pre-cancers, cancers and photoaging, so wearing SPF and avoiding sun exposure is always a good idea.”

Myth: I need to spend time in the sun to make sure my body gets enough vitamin D

“If you rely on sun exposure for vitamin D you may not be getting enough, especially if you live in a northern city. And, since it is known that DNA damage from UV exposure occurs as early as the first 10 minutes or exposure, there is no safe way to get your vitamin D from the sun. I recommended vitamin D supplements which are safer and more predictable.”

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Myth: As long as I keep applying sunscreen, it’s okay to lay out all day

“Seeking shade, using protective clothing and reapplying SPF every 2 hours is recommended. But your goal should be to avoid any tan or pinkness of the skin. Realistically, this is harder to achieve if you lay out all day.”

Originally posted June 2013. Updated August 2017.