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Published on May 27, 2022

Say Bye to Sunburns with This Sunscreen Edition of Fact vs. Fiction

woman putting sunscreen on girl's nose

By Cody Miller, EvergreenHealth Staff Writer

For many of us, our favorite season is right around the corner. It's about that time of the year when we can finally start shedding some layers and pull out our favorite pair of sandals.

Maybe you're planning a pool party, a beach day or a midday picnic. You know all the must-haves: food, a towel or blanket, plenty of water and, of course, sunscreen.

But what is the right kind of sunscreen? What even is SPF? What if you're staying inside all day?

Roughly 86-90% of skin cancer cases are linked to UV radiation from the sun, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Wearing the right sunscreen is an important way to prevent cancer as well as aging and brown spots.

You've likely heard about various sunscreen debates like sprays vs. lotions or high SPF vs. low SPF.

Now you can put all those sunscreen debates to rest with some sunscreen fact vs. fiction:


Fiction: SPF doesn't matter/Higher SPF is better

Depending on who you've talked to, you've probably heard that SPF (or Sun Protection Factor) doesn't matter when it comes to sunscreen. On the contrary, you might have also heard that the higher the SPF the better the protection.

Neither statement is completely true, but sunscreen SPF can be a little complicated.

To explain, it's important to know that the sun gives off two types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB.

UVB rays are mostly responsible for sunburns and skin cancer while UVA rays are responsible for aging and tanning and can also contribute to sunburns.

The SPF number mainly tells you the amount of UVB protection a sunscreen provides, which is why it's important to look for sunscreens that are broad-spectrum. This tells you that the sunscreen also protects against UVA rays.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the SPF number specifically tells you how much longer it would take your skin to redden while using the sunscreen compared to if you weren't wearing sunscreen at all.

For example, an SPF 30 sunscreen will keep your skin from getting burned 30 times longer than if you weren't wearing sunscreen at all.

As SPF gets higher, the difference in the amount of protection it provides becomes minimal. Meanwhile, experts say higher SPFs have been known to make many people more complacent and less likely to reapply their sunscreen regularly.

In most cases, SPF 30-50 is appropriate. The most important thing is that you reapply at least every two hours regardless of SPF.


Fact: You still need sunscreen even when it's cloudy

Don't let a cloudy day interrupt your outdoor plans, just be sure you still grab that sunscreen!

Even though you're not sporting sunglasses and it's not as hot, there's still potential for skin damage.

Even when it's cloudy, up to 80% of the sun's UV radiation reaches the ground, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.


Fiction: You don't need sunscreen indoors

It might seem like the sun can't touch you if you stay indoors, but the sun's rays, primarily UVA rays, can reach you in most rooms. That's because UVA rays can go right through windows.

A study focused on a group of people working indoors, found that those who sat near a window showed more signs of skin damage than those who didn't.

Even during your commute, you're likely being exposed to UVA light through your car windows.


Fact: Sunscreen lotion is better than sprays

While you might prefer sunscreen sprays over lotions because they dry faster or are easier to apply, remember that “easier and faster” rarely means "safer."

While spray sunscreens can be just as effective as lotion sunscreens, reliability can take a hit since it's tougher to gauge how much you're applying.

For example, each time you apply sunscreen, you should use about an ounce worth, or two tablespoons to ensure you're fully covered. This is easy to measure with a lotion but becomes much more difficult with spray, according to MIT Medical.

Plus, if you're reapplying with a spray sunscreen outside and it's windy, you're likely not applying as much as you think.


Fiction: You don't need sunscreen if you're wearing makeup

Some makeup products will have sunscreen ingredients, but they don't provide adequate sun protection.

You're likely only applying a thin layer of makeup, and you're probably not reapplying it throughout the day. Also, you're probably not applying makeup to areas like the back of your neck and your ears.

While experts say buying makeup products with sunscreen ingredients like zinc oxide is a good idea, you should apply your sunscreen before laying your foundation, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.


Fact: All sunscreens are NOT the same

Just like food, cleaning products and medicine, it's important to pay attention to the ingredients in your sunscreen to know which is the safest.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for sunscreen safety, says only zinc oxide and titanium oxide are safe and effective UV filters in sunscreen.

These are safer for sensitive skin and run less risk of skin penetration than organic sunscreens.


Fiction: All you need is sunscreen

While sunscreen is a great way to protect your skin from UV rays, it doesn't always cut it alone.

If you're going to be outdoors for a while, cover up with dense, tightly woven clothing that is dark or a bright, solid color. White and pastel-colored clothes reflect sunlight and can still put your skin at risk.

Also, be sure to bring along a pair of UV-protective sunglasses as well as a hat and umbrella.


More sunscreen tips

Sunscreen is a great tool to protect your skin from cancer-causing rays, but no sunscreen is 100% effective.

Look for sunscreens that are water-resistant as these will provide longer-lasting protection through sweat or during a swim. But this doesn't mean you don't need to reapply regularly.

Be smart about your fun in the sun and be sure to ask your primary care doctor about having your skin examined annually to detect any signs of skin cancer.

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