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Fact vs. Fiction: SPF Myths

 

At one point or another, we’ve all skipped out on using sunscreen — and regretted it. Life lessons like that can be hard to learn. But what if we told you sunscreen is actually an FDA-regulated, over-the-counter drug? Would you take it more seriously?

We have a knack for lying to ourselves about sunscreen’s relevance in our regimens, but we need to stay mindful of the damage the sun’s rays can cause. Here are some of the lies we tell ourselves — and why they are, in fact, lies.

It was cloudy outside.

On an overcast day, you see clouds. But you know what’s behind the clouds? The sun. Even though clouds reduce visible light, damaging rays still push through. Up to 80% of solar UV radiation can penetrate cloud cover, and haze in the atmosphere can can increase UV radiation exposure. If you intend to work outside on a cloudy day, be sure to check the UV index. Any time the UV Index is 3 or above, be sure to use sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful rays.

I already have a natural tan, so I don’t need it.

Melanin is a biological, photoprotective agent — it can actually carry an SPF of 1.5 to 2 and possibly as high as 4, meaning it can absorb anywhere from 50-75% of UV radiation. Because dark skin contains more eumelanin than fair skin, it is twice as effective in preventing UVB radiation. Thus people of color are less susceptible to sunburns, but not totally off the hook. The risk of skin cancer is still a factor. Even though it is less frequent in people of color, it is often more serious as it is usually found later and harder to treat. As of 2014, the five-year survival rate for African Americans with skin cancer is 73% while it is at 91% for Caucasians. Protecting your skin with sunscreen is the greatest preventative measure you can take.

I think we have a bottle from…

That sunscreen from your trip to Cancun in 2012 isn’t going to cut it. Generally, sunscreen can maintain its original strength for up to three years. But the ingredients in your sunscreen can break down, causing it to be ineffective. When used properly, sunscreen shouldn’t last very long. If you spend a day at the beach and have an 4 oz. bottle, you should be out of sunscreen by the time you leave. You should be applying one ounce at a time — approximately every two hours — if you are using it properly. If you still have some left, check the expiration date before you use it again.

It’s SPF 100, so it’s the best.

When you see high SPFs, you want to assume those are going to be the best. Unfortunately, that idea couldn’t be further from the truth. SPF numbers correlate more to the percentage of rays blocked than the exposure time in the sun. Once you pass SPF 30, the percentage starts to plateau. SPF 30 blocks roughly 97% of UVB rays — SPF 45 blocks 98%. Not bad, right? Sunscreens with higher ratings are only slightly better than the last. SPF 100 blocks approximately 99% of rays, so it only sounds better than it actually is. Consider this: regardless of how high the SPF is, or how water-resistant it is, sunscreen does wear off. Without proper use, the SPF rating is irrelevant.

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