The Many Misconceptions of Sunscreen, Decoded

Janell M. Hickman

Image via @StyleCasterBeauty

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one blistering sunburn during childhood can increase the chance of developing skin cancer later in life. Uh, we’ve all had way more than one summer burn, right? Many times, these burns happen due to the many misconceptions when it comes to sunscreen—especially that certain formulas are “waterproof.”

We know it’s extremely confusing, so we touched base with two experts to break it down. Now, you can enjoy the rest of your summer and feel informed.

Burn, Baby Burn
Everybody wants a tan, but at what risk? You think your burn is turning into a tan, but guess what? It’s actually sun damage, no matter the varying amount of color. “Sunburn is a form of radiation burn from overexposure to the sun that affects the skin,” explains Dr. Patricia Agin, Director of Scientific Affairs and R&D Leader at the Coppertone Solar Research Center. “Sunburn usually begins to appear within a few hours after too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, peaks at about 24 hours, and may take several days to fade.”

MORE: 10 Sunscreens You Should Be Packing This Summer

Apply in Advance
Don’t wait until you hit the beach to put on your sunscreen—it’s too late. A rule of measure is to put on sunscreen while you’re getting ready. You are more likely to take your time and coat yourself evenly instead of haphazardly once you get in the sun. “You should always apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going into the sun,” explains Chris Birchby, Founder and CEO of COOLA Suncare. “This gives your skin a chance to absorb the sunscreen for added protection.”

Learn Your A, B, C’s
Like life, the sun is complicated. “UVB rays make up about 5-10% of the rays that reach us,” explains Agin. “They affect the skin’s outer layer and are the primary cause of sunburns, skin cancer and premature skin aging, and tanning. UVA rays constitute approximately 90-95% of the rays that reach the earth. They are weaker than UVB rays, but penetrate deep into the skin’s layers and can contribute to signs of premature aging, such as wrinkles, as well as tanning. UVC rays, while the most damaging type of UV rays, are completely filtered by the atmosphere and do not reach the earth’s surface.”

Figure Out The Formula
“Classic and mineral sunscreens are differentiated by their active sun protection ingredients,” explains Birchby. “Classic sunscreens use chemical active ingredients designed to absorb and dissipate UVA/UVB rays, while mineral sunscreens use mineral active ingredients such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide to scatter and reflect UVA/UVB rays.”

Those with darker skin tones should opt for translucent sprays or a lightweight, chemical formula. “Mineral SPFs are harder to absorb into the skin and tend to make darker tones appear ashy,” explains Birchby.

Store Your Sunscreen Properly
Even though sunscreen is literally meant for use in hot weather, it can actually break down and become ineffective in the heat. “Sunscreen products can be affected by storage at high heat or in humid conditions. It’s a good thing not to store your sunscreen in a glove compartment or golf bag. If your sunscreen has separated or has an off odor, it’s best to throw it out and replace it.” noted Birchby.

MORE: A Whopping 80% Of Sunscreens Don’t Work, According To A New Report

Waterproof is a Tricky Term
Going for a dip? Make sure to apply and re-apply—and apply again. “No sunscreen is 100% waterproof,” explains Birchby. “Recent FDA rulings required sunscreens that are water resistant to display a water resistant amount of 40 or 80 minutes, meaning that they will still block SPF rays after being exposed to water.”

Number Don’t Lie
It’s no secret that if you want to protect yourself you need to up the ante. Overall, experts agree that SPF 30 is sufficient to help prevent damage and sunburn. “SPF protection is incremental, which means that as the SPF increases you do receive additional protection,” explains Agin. “For instance, a SPF 15 protects from 93% of the damaging UV rays, while an SPF 50 protects from 98% of UV rays. While these differences may seem small, for a sun sensitive individual or someone who works outdoors, the extra protection benefit is important. No sunscreen can provide 100% protection from the sun’s rays. That’s why it’s important to adopt a sun protection routine that includes options like sunglasses, a hat, long-sleeve shirts, pants and an umbrella, in addition to sunscreen.”