Sun Safety Smarts: Dispelling 15 Sunscreen Myths

Your ultimate guide to sunscreen - debunking myths and understanding the facts.

September 4, 2023 7 minutes read
Woman shielding her face from the sun with her hand

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It happens even to the most skin-savvy of us: Great, it's cloudy today, so I'll skip sunscreen! - Oh, look, I already have some tan, so I can go for a lower SPF! Myth after myth. And no matter how much we know about skincare, there are still so many myths and misconceptions surrounding sun protection.

Sun is the source of all our joy, but it can make our skin suffer, causing premature aging and even skin cancer. So, sunscreen should be the one thing never to skip in your skincare routine, summer or winter, sunny or rainy.

In this article, we'll explore some of the most common sunscreen myths and provide the facts to help you better understand the importance of sunscreen and how to use it safely and effectively.

Myth #1: I don't need sunscreen because I have a darker skin tone.

african american woman spending time in the sun

One of the most pervasive myths about sunscreen is that people with darker skin tones don't need to use it. However, this is so far from true. While people with darker skin do indeed have more melanin, which provides some natural protection from the sun, they are still at risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of skin cancer, which can make it more difficult to treat. Therefore, people of all skin tones need to use sunscreen daily to protect their skin from the sun.

Myth #2: I only need to apply sunscreen on sunny days.

woman spending time outside during a sunny day

Another common misconception is that you only need to apply sunscreen when it's sunny outside. However, the sun's UV rays can still penetrate through clouds and even through windows, making it important to use sunscreen every day, regardless of the weather.

It's also important to note that UV rays can be more intense during certain times of the day, such as between 10 am and 4 pm, so it's best to reapply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside during these times.

Myth #3: I only need sunscreen for outdoor activities.

man hiking in the nature

The majority of people think that sunscreen is only necessary for outdoor activities, such as swimming, hiking, and playing sports. However, it's important to use sunscreen even when indoors, as UV rays can penetrate through window glass and cause damage to the skin.

In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation finds that you need to protect yourself from the sun when spending time inside as well, especially if you're several feet from a window, at work, or in a car, for example. This is because, unlike UVB rays that are mostly blocked by glass, more than 50% of UVA sun rays can still penetrate it and reach you, causing sun damage.

Myth #4: A higher SPF will protect me better.

sunscreen bottles with different SPFs

Perhaps, the most common misconception is that a sunscreen with a higher SPF (Sun Protection Factor) offers more protection. But this is only partially the case. While it's true that a sunscreen with a higher SPF will provide more protection against UVB rays, which are the rays responsible for sunburn (and not the UVA rays, which are responsible for more severe sun damage), it's important to remember that no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun's UV rays. So, for example, an SPF of 30 will block about 97% of sun rays, while higher SPFs will block just slightly more.

Additionally, many people believe they can stay in the sun longer if they use sunscreen with a higher SPF. But, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, regardless of the SPF.

Myth #5: Chemical sunscreens will damage my skin.

woman pouring suncreen into her palm

Ah, those chemicals in sunscreens cause so much debate, making us trust those saying that chemical sunscreens are not safe. However, chemical UV filters, which work by absorbing UV rays, have been proven safe when used topically, i.e., in sunscreens! The FDA has approved several chemical sunscreen ingredients as safe and effective for use on the skin.

However, it's vital to note that many chemical sunscreen ingredients aren't sfae for the environment, especially coral reefs and the marine life. Also, some people may have a sensitivity or allergic reaction to certain chemical sunscreen ingredients. So it's always a good idea to read the labels, choose products that are eco-friendly, as well as to test a small amount of sunscreen on a skin patch before applying it to your face or body.

Myth #6: I need to buy new sunscreen after one year.

woman checking expiration date on a sunscreen bottle

Your sunscreen won't expire after only one year, and you don't need to throw it away. While it's correct that the effectiveness of sunscreen can decrease over time, this doesn't necessarily mean that the sunscreen expires after one year and should be replaced with a new one right away.

In fact, sunscreen can be stored for a longer period of time (usually up to three years), in a cool dark place, protected from the heat, light, and air, to preserve its effectiveness. Anyhow, if you use it regularly, every day, then your bottle won't even last that long.

However, you should still check the expiration date on your sunscreen bottle. But also check the product's consistency, color, and smell – if it has changed, you should probably buy a new one [source].

Myth #7: I don't need to reapply sunscreen if I spend time in the water.

woman enjoying her time in a swimming pool

Many people believe that water prevents the UV rays from reaching them; however, just like with glass, water lets sun rays through, and it's even an excellent reflector. This means you're even at greater risk if in water or next to it.

Plus, water, sand, and even clothing can reduce the effectiveness of sunscreen and cause it to wear off more quickly. Therefore, it's essential to reapply sunscreen every two hours, and if in water or sweating, reapply it more frequently, every 45 minutes.

Myth #8: I only need to apply sunscreen to exposed skin.

woman applying sunscreen to her face

Again, not entirely true. UV rays can penetrate clothing, so it's important to apply sunscreen everywhere, including areas that may be covered by clothing, such as your legs or arms.

However, if you're wearing clothing with UPF (or Ultraviolet Protection Factor), you can rest assured that some of the UV rays will be blocked by it. So, for example, UPF of 50 will block about 98% of sun rays, both UVA and UVB.

Besides the UPF, there are other factors to consider when it comes to clothing that can shield you from the sun, such as color, density, and fabric. For example, darker colors will absorb more of the UV rays and, therefore, offer better protection. Likewise, more densely-woven clothing, like denim or wool, as well as unbleached cotton, shiny polyesters, and satiny silks, will be better at reflecting radiation.

Myth #9: Sunscreen isn't safe for my kids.

woman applying sunscreen to her kid

Many parents are weary of applying sunscreen to their babies and toddlers, thinking they aren't safe. However, children and babies are even more susceptible to sun damage than adults, so it's essential to use sunscreen on them as well. But keep in mind to choose a sunscreen that is specifically formulated for children, as their skin is more delicate than adults'.

Myth #10: There is SPF in my makeup so I don't need sunscreen.

woman applying face makeup

Many makeup products, such as foundations, BB and CC creams, and lip balms, do contain some level of SPF. Still, it's often not enough to provide adequate protection against the sun's harmful UV rays. So while makeup with SPF may help to provide some level of protection, it's not a substitute for sunscreen.

This is because makeup with SPF is not always applied in the recommended amount, which is around 1/4 teaspoon for the face, and it also only covers some of the exposed skin. Additionally, makeup can rub off, sweat off, and not be applied evenly.

So, it's important to use a separate sunscreen product with a minimum of SPF 30 and to apply it at least 30 minutes before going outside, regardless of whether you're wearing makeup or not. This will ensure that your skin is properly protected from the sun's harmful rays.

Myth #11: Sunscreen will make my skin more oily.

young woman with oily skin

While it's true that some sunscreens can be greasier than others, this doesn't mean that they will necessarily make your skin oily. In fact, many sunscreens are now formulated specifically for oily or acne-prone skin and are oil-free, non-comedogenic, and lightweight. These types of sunscreens are designed to protect the skin from the sun's harmful UV rays without clogging pores or causing breakouts.

It's also crucial to remember that oily skin is a symptom of sun damage, and not applying sunscreen can lead to the overproduction of oil, which can worsen the issues like excessive shine, acne, and blackheads. On the other hand, sunscreen can also help with fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation caused by sun damage, which can improve the overall appearance of your skin.

Myth #12: A fake tan will protect my skin from the sun.

tanned woman sun bathing

This one is pretty dangerous, as many think a tan provides sun protection. This is most definitely not true, especially with a fake tan. A fake tan, whether it's achieved through sunless tanning lotions, sprays, or self-tanners, doesn't provide any protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

A fake tan is simply a change in the color of the skin, which is achieved by applying a colorant to the skin's surface. It doesn't influence the production of melanin or provide any additional sun protection.

The color of a fake tan comes from a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which reacts with the skin's amino acids and causes the skin to darken. DHA does not absorb or reflect UV rays.

So, tan or not, real or fake, always wear sunscreen, limit exposure to the sun, wear protective clothing and seek shade during peak hours.

Myth #13: I need to expose myself to the sun to get enough vitamin D.

woman having a walk in the sun

Vitamin D is a nutrient that our body needs for healthy bones, skin, and teeth, and it's produced by our body when our skin is exposed to UVB radiation from the sun. Wearing sunscreen can block some UVB radiation, which can reduce the production of vitamin D in the body. However, this doesn't mean that you won't get enough vitamin D if you wear sunscreen.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people get their vitamin D from food sources, such as fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods, rather than from sun exposure because sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer.

If you're concerned about getting enough vitamin D, you can talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about whether you need to take a vitamin D supplement.

Myth #14: Only people that sunbathe get skin cancer.

two girls sunbathing next to the sea

Not only people that seek sun will get skin cancer. Skin cancer can develop in anyone, regardless of whether they sunbathe or not. Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, and it can happen to anyone who has had too much exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays over time. This can happen from activities such as sunbathing, but also from other activities such as going for a walk, driving, working, or even sitting near a window that lets UV rays in.

And, as we already mentioned, UV rays can penetrate through clouds, so skin cancer can develop even on days when the sun is not visible. Additionally, people with a history of sunburns, particularly in childhood, are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer.

But, it can be prevented by protecting the skin from the sun's UV rays, performing regular self-examinations, and visiting a dermatologist for regular check-ups.

Myth #15: I never burn when I tan, so I don't need sunscreen.

woman in a tanning bed

Don't be fooled by your beautiful sun-kissed tan. Tan is nothing else but your skin's reaction to sun exposure and its attempt to protect itself by producing melanin. Tan is by no means a sunscreen replacement, and it won't provide any sun protection.

In fact, tan, be it from the sun or artifical sources like solariums, is just a sign that your skin already suffered damage to some extent. So whatever you do, don't rely on your tan to protect you, and don't expose yourself to the sun without proper protection.


Please, be aware of the common sunscreen myths so that you can separate fact from fiction and make informed decisions about your sunscreen choices. Remember, sun protection is important not only during the summer months but also throughout the year.

So, make sure to incorporate sunscreen into your daily skincare routine and always use it as directed on the label. With the correct information, you can enjoy your time in the sun while staying safe and protected.

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