Think you got this whole sunscreen thing down? Here’s the rub: Just because you’ve probably been slathering on sunscreen for decades doesn’t mean you haven’t fallen for any of these common sunscreen myths. Dermatologists wish their patients would ignore these myths, since believing them could increase your risk of sunburn, wrinkles, and even skin cancer. (Here are more expert tips for preventing melanoma.)
Sunscreen myth #1: Darker skin tones don’t need sunscreen.
False! Every shade of skin needs protection from UV rays. True, darker skin tones do not burn easily (or at all in many cases), but that doesn’t mean they are not absorbing UV light. Those with darker skin may absorb less of those harmful rays, but a little bit of sun damage every day can add up over time, so sunscreen is a must—for everyone.
Pay attention to the SPF. No matter your skin tone, everyone should wear a sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Sunscreen myth #2: Sunscreen is only for sunny days.
False! Not only can you absorb UV light on cloudy days, but you also never know when those clouds are going to disappear and leave you exposed in the bright sun. And it’s not just a summer thing, either. In the winter, for example, the sun can reflect off snow, leaving you vulnerable to exposure to UVA and UVB rays. That’s why dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen 24/7.
Sunscreen myth #3: You only need sunscreen on your face.
False! Well, mostly. The key is to cover any exposed skin. If it’s winter and you’re all bundled up, your face is really the only part that needs sunscreen. On the other hand, if you’re wearing shorts or an elbow-length sweater, you’ll need sunscreen on your legs and arms (even if you’ll spend the majority of your day cooped up in an office). In fact, the legs are one of the most common sites of melanoma for women.
Psst—don’t forget your hands, feet, neck, and ears. Derms says these parts are notoriously overlooked.
Sunscreen myth #4: A higher SPF lasts all day.
False! This rumor just won’t go away, so let’s be clear: Every sunscreen, no matter what the SPF, needs to be reapplied at least every two hours.
A higher SPF may provide a higher level of protection, but it does not provide a longer protection. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should use a lower SPF. The recommended minimum is SPF 30. Here’s how to prevent your kids from getting sunburn.
Sunscreen myth #5: You can get SPF protection from makeup or moisturizers.
False! You’ll get some SPF protection from makeup, sure, but not nearly the amount required to keep your skin safe and healthy. If you really love that SPF-enhanced powder foundation, try using that for reapplication purposes only. Start your morning with a solid layer of sunscreen, and use the foundation with SPF as a quick touch-up throughout the day if you’re in a rush.
Bonus: Many oil-free sunscreens actually work great as a primer for makeup, so now you really have no excuse.
Sunscreen myth #6: It’s safer to get a base tan before going on a sunny vacation.
False! Repeat after us: There is no such thing as a safe tan. Sun exposure is sun exposure. A tan may look healthier than a burn, but a tan is still a symptom of UV light damaging the skin. (Here’s more info on UV rays, explained by a dermatologist.)