Don’t Believe These 14 Myths About Sunscreen

Aly Walansky
woman applying sunscreen

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We have all accepted that sun protection is pretty important. That said, many of us are believing some pretty weird things about how and when we should be wearing the necessary product. Avoid ugly burns, peeling, blisters — or worse! — by scrapping these crazy sunscreen myths!

Sunscreen causes cancer. This is not true, but the myth has been around for a long while. It is generally believed that there is no systemic absorption (A.K.A. it is still unproven that sunscreen directly causes cancer in humans) but if you are concerned about the chemical blockers in sunscreens, it’s best to seek out sunscreens with the physical blockers like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (try Environ® SPF 25; available at, says dermatologist Dr. Jeremy Brauer.

If you don’t bask in the sun, you don’t need sunscreen. Even if you don’t lay in the sun tanning, you still need to apply SPF to exposed areas, says Gabriela Santana-Blackburn, Executive Director of Esthetics and Teacher Training at Tricoci University of Beauty Culture.  We are exposed to rays while driving in our car, walking around, gardening, biking, etc. and protecting our skin during these times is equally important as when we lay out.

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You are allergic to “all” sunscreen. Some people may be allergic to chemical sun screening agents. For those people, look for chemical-free sunscreens that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to provide broad spectrum protection, says Brauer.

Sunscreen alone will protect you from the sun.  An article in Science World Report stated that researchers at the Neurosciences Institute, Joint Center of the University Miguel Hernández have found that even if you wear a sunscreen with a 50+ UPF (or Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating you won’t be fully protected from the sun because it only protects against immediate radiation effects, not long-term effects such as melanoma. Wear hats, such Wallaroo Hats, which are made to protect against 97.5% of the sun’s UV rays, or sun-protective clothing. “A standard white cotton t-shirt has a UPF of only 5 (roughly equivalent to a sunscreen with an SPF of 5), meaning that it allows approximately 20% of the sun’s harmful UV rays to pass through the fabric. A fabric’s UPF is affected by the thickness of the fabric, the tightness of the knit/weave, and the color, with darker colors providing more inherent sun-protection. For maximum protection, look for clothing and accessories that are labeled with a UPF rating of 50+, meaning that they block more than 98% of UV rays,” says Summer Kramer, melanoma survivor and founder of SummerSkin sunprotective clothing.

All sunscreen is the same. “It is imperative that you protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA are long UV rays that penetrate deep into the skin causing long lasting damage while UVB rays are shorter and usually cause sunburn and surface skin cancer,” says Brauer. Most products these days do protect against both, but you should make sure the product is labeled broad spectrum. Also, look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as these ingredients sit on top of your skin, forming an almost invisible physical barrier against UV rays.

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You don’t need sunscreen if it’s in your makeup. Relying on SPF in makeup will not provide proper UV protection. It is recommended to apply a sunscreen under makeup every morning because it must adhere to skin in order to provide the best possible protection. It would require layers and layers of makeup to get enough UV protection, says Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, a clinical dermatologist.

Wearing sunscreen means you won’t tan. Sunscreen will help guard against harmful UVA and UVB rays, however it is still possible to get tan while wearing sunscreen. A tan is a actually inflammation in the skin and a way for the body to protect itself, says Thonfeldt. It’s important to reapply to get effective protection against radiation.

Water resistant SPF means it won’t wash off in the pool. There is no such thing as water-proof sunscreen, Thornfeldt says. Consumers want to look for an SPF that is very water resistant, which will last up to a certain amount of time in the water, which is noted on the packaging. The key is to reapply every couple of hours.

Dark skin doesn’t need protection. Although people with light skin are at the most risk to burning, everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, is subject to the damage caused by overexposure to the sun, says Brauer. Even when a sunburn is not visible after a day at the beach, it doesn’t mean that UV rays aren’t harming the skin. In order to maintain long-term skin protection, the proper Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of sunscreen needs to be applied frequently.

MORE: Sunscreen for Your Hair: The Easiest Way to Protect and Hydrate Your Scalp

Sunscreen blocks vitamin D. While some experts regard this statement as true, it only takes a small amount of sun exposure to get a sufficient amount of vitamin D. Most people get their recommended amount of vitamin D from the milk they drink, so this isn’t a legitimate excuse to skip the sunscreen.  People can also get adequate amount of vitamin D from their daily multi vitamins in addition to milk, says Brauer.

You can skip behind their ears and on back of necks. This is especially bad  if you have short hair or wear your hair up often. These areas are exposed and suffer serious sun damage because we forget about them, says Santana-Blackburn. Another often forgotten area is our scalp. Wear a protective hat or apply sunscreen on your part line or everywhere if you have sparse hair. Spray on sunscreen makes this application easier.

It’s okay to use last year’s sunscreen. This is ineffective for skin protection. It is important to look at the expiration date on the bottle — if it is expired, you need to throw it away. If you have left your sunscreen in direct sunlight or high heat it is also a good idea to purchase a new sunscreen. Once the chemicals in the sunscreen start to break down, so does the effectiveness of the sunscreen.

Higher SPF doesn’t actually offer greater protection. Brauer says while we know that sunscreen with a 30 SPF gives you 97% protection against harmful UVB rays, and some experts are still debating whether sunscreen with an SPF higher than 30 actually gives you any more UVB protection. With that said, we also must protect ourselves from UVA rays so it’s very important to make sure your sunscreen is a broad spectrum or UVA and UVB protective sunscreen.

Using the wrong dosage is never a great idea. Most people do not realize that you should apply one ounce of SPF for proper coverage on an average sized adult. So if you buy an 8oz bottle of sunscreen that should last only 8 applications. You also need to reapply sunscreen ever 1-2 hours especially if you are being active and perspiring or are in and out of water.