Statistics on skin cancer are sobering to review. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer during their lifetime. This means that chances are likely that you or someone you love could be affected by some form of skin cancer.
Another sobering fact: Almost all of these cases will be related to exposure to natural or artificial ultraviolet light or exposure to the sun. The best way to avoid becoming a skin cancer statistic is to make sunscreen a part of your daily routine. Slathering yourself with SPF isn’t as simple as it seems, though, as myths and misleading truths about sunscreen are easy to find and often easier to believe.
To help you separate fact from fiction, we’ve busted the 10 most common myths about sunscreen in a two blog series. Arming yourself with information will help you make and encourage those around you to make healthy choices when it comes to protecting your skin.
1. You only need to apply sunscreen on sunny days.
It’s a myth that prevails: One of the most commonly-cited reasons to avoid sunscreen is cloud cover or overcast weather. When clouds are blocking the sun, it’s easy to believe they are blocking the sun’s UV rays, too. This isn’t always the case, and anyone who’s suffered a sunburn on an overcast day knows why.
Up to 80 percent of the sun’s radiation can pour through clouds. In some cases, it can even reflect and amplify the sun’s harmful rays. Simply put, sunscreen needs to be part of your everyday routine, regardless of the weather, time of year, or what’s on your agenda.
2. SPF is the most important thing to consider when selecting a sunscreen.
You might think that selecting SPF 100 over SPF 15 is a smart move, and it might be. But knowing how these numbers work is more important when it comes to sun safety. It’s not always an exact science, but a sunscreen with SPF 15 should keep you safe in the sun and prevent burning 15 times longer than with unprotected skin. This means that SPF 30 sunscreen should extend this time 30 times.
It is important to note, though, that there might be some relationship between SPF number and sunscreen efficiency: According to information from the Washington Post, testers have found that SPF 15 blocks about 93 percent of the sun’s UV rays, while sunscreens with SPF ratings over 30 block about 97 percent. This kind of logic has inspired some country’s regulators (including those in Japan, Australia and much of Europe) to cap SPF ratings on sunscreens sold there at SPF 50.
3. Last year’s sunscreen is still safe to use.
The shelf life of a product begins on the day it was manufactured, not the day you open it. This means that if the latest bottle of SPF purchased was made just before you brought it home, it should be safe to use for approximately two years.
This date isn’t because the chemicals blocking the sun breakdown but because bacteria and fungus can grow in the product, which is usually indicated by a change in the product’s color or smell. Another thing to keep in mind is that sunscreen should be part of your everyday routine year-round, so it’s not likely that you’ll even have a bottle lingering on your shelves from years prior.
4. My long-sleeved beach cover-up is enough to keep my skin protected.
A garment’s sun protection factor varies on several different conditions. Thin or light-weight fabrics can allow sunlight to filter through and reach your skin. Color can also play a role in how your clothing protects your skin. Dark colored fabrics can absorb more of the sun’s rays than light colored fabrics.
This means that your black or navy cover-up might stop more rays from hitting your skin than your white or yellow top. Another thing to keep in mind is that several clothing brands (including J.Crew, Columbia, Parasol Sun and L.L. Bean) make garments in special fabric designed to provide the same protection as sunscreen.
5. Getting a base tan will help protect me from the sun.
This is an easy myth to bust. Any change in skin color after exposure to natural or artificial sunlight is damage to your skin. It’s also important for people with naturally dark skin to be careful in the sun. Though melanin (the natural chemical that creates a dark color) in the skin can absorb some UV rays before they cause damage, it won’t prevent all damage and it won’t limit your exposure.