This post was written by ScIU Undergraduate Intern, Carly Jones.
We all know that feeling of smearing sunscreen across our face during the hot summer months. Heavy, oily, and greasy… it’s not the most elegant experience. But how important is sunscreen really? Well, as it turns out, it’s pretty essential for our health. Sunscreen protects us from ultraviolet (UV) rays, which come in two forms, UVB and UVA. UVB rays are what cause sunburns and contribute to the development of skin cancer, whereas UVA rays damage the skin from tanning, aging and wrinkling. Science shows that wearing sunscreen not only protects against sun damage and cancer, but also prevents visible signs of aging, evens skin tone, and reduces dark spots on the skin. Unfortunately, despite all of these health benefits, more than 85% of men and 70% of women do not wear sunscreen regularly. So why is that?
Most people do not wear sunscreen because there is so much misinformation out there. So today, we will debunk some sunscreen myths!
Myth #1: You do not need sunscreen indoors or on cloudy days
We have a tendency to believe that sunscreen is only necessary when we are lounging by the pool on a hot, sunny day, but this is simply untrue. Even on overcast days the up to 80% of UV rays penetrate through the clouds damaging our skin. UV rays also slip through our windows, meaning you should be wearing sunscreen even indoors! Most windows do block UVB rays, but not UVA rays, leaving your skin vulnerable to photoaging (aging from sun) in the form of sunspots and wrinkles. In fact, it only takes 15 minutes of UVA exposure to damage your skin. So, long story short, wear sunscreen everyday!
Myth #2: People who have dark skin do not need sunscreen
Another misconception is that sunscreen is unnecessary for those with more melanin (darker skin tones) or who do not burn in the sun. Melanin does act to diffuse UVB rays and protect against sunburns, but extreme sun exposure and UVA rays are nothing to write off. Without the use of sunscreen UVA damage leads to premature skin aging and wrinkles. Studies also show that skin cancer can affect people of all skin tones. Despite higher rates of skin cancer in lighter skin tones (i.e. Caucasian, White), survival rates of skin cancer are actually the lowest among darker skin tones (i.e. African American, Native American, Asian American, etc.), which
suggests that more awareness of skin cancer and preventative measures are needed
among more melaninated populations.
Myth #3: Higher SPF means more protection
SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measurement for how well your sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays. Oftentimes, people think that the higher the SPF the better the sunscreen, SPF 100 must be two times better than SPF 50, right? Not exactly. The truth is that a higher SPF only marginally shields you from UVB damage. The difference between SPF 30, 50, and 100 comes down to about 2%. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB radiation, whereas SPF 50 blocks 98% and SPF 100 blocks 99%. So, there is hardly any difference in protection between these drastic numbers. The problem comes from how misleading SPFs greater than 50 are. People think they are getting more protection (when they are not) and then reapply less. Just remember more SPF does not mean more protection and you should re-apply as directed (every 2 hours)!
So, did you believe any of these myths? Chances are you probably did! If any of these surprised you, you are not alone! Sunscreen is often not talked about and surrounded by misinformation. Hopefully debunking these myths has been helpful to improving your understanding of its importance. Just remember, sunscreen provides us with a ton of benefits and should be worn everyday by everyone.
All About Sunscreen
Ask the Expert: Does a High SPF Protect My Skin Better?
Sunscreen Use Among Adults in the United States
Do you need to wear sunscreen?
Summer Is Almost Over—Do I Still Need To Wear Sunscreen?
True or False: Dark-skinned People Don’t Need Sunscreen
Racial disparities in melanoma survival
What’s Wrong With High SPF?
Should Black people wear sunscreen?
Edited by Dan Myers and Jennifer Sieben