10 Common Myths About Sunblock I Bet You Didn’t Know

I have to admit that slapping on that thick, greasy layer of SPF is not exactly the sexiest thing to do, especially when I have to add another layer of makeup after.

I started to wonder about SPF: Is it the higher the better? Do I have to wear sunscreen even while I am indoors? What is the ideal SPF strength to use? Why are my age spots and freckles still growing?. The truth is I don’t know much about sunscreen. All I know is that I cannot go out the front door without it.

Here are 10 commons myths about your SPF sunblock you probably didn’t know (I didn’t!). For the purpose of this post, the term sunblock and sunscreen is used interchangeably.

Myth 1: Layering products with SPF gives you the combined total count for SPF protection.

Ahem. I used to think that when I combine the SPF count of my skincare and makeup products that I was getting the ultimate protection. Who knew? For instance, moisturizer with SPF 30, sunblock lotion with SPF 50, mineral face powder with SPF 15 and foundation with SPF 20, in total equals to SPF115 (30+50+15+20), right? Wrong! The strength of SPF protecting your skin is the highest one you applied. In other words, my sunblock lotion with SPF 50 is the overall protection I am getting, not the combined total.

Myth 2: You don’t need sunblock if you are wearing a hat and covered clothes.

Not entirely true. Clothing made from tightly woven fabric offers the best protection against UV rays. Even better than any sunblock. Rule of thumb: The thicker the material, the more protection. The darker the material, the more protection. But, don’t throw your sunblock away just yet. Unless you are fully clothed in thick dark-colored long-sleeved turtleneck dress covering your neck, chest, arms, torso and legs, with a wide-brimmed hat that covers your face, ears and neck, you still need sunblock.

Myth 3: Sunblock on arms and legs is good enough.

No. Skin cancer occurs anywhere on your body. It does not discriminate. In fact, most non-melanoma skin cancers develop on sun-exposed (mostly overlooked) areas of the body like ear, neck, lips, scalp and back of hands.

Myth 4: Wearing makeup with SPF is good enough.

Unfortunately, makeup and skincare products that are formulated with SPF does not give you the consistency in texture and concentration in quantity needed to protect your skin completely. Using a moisturizer and foundation with SPF should be viewed more as a bonus than a necessity.

Myth 5: Sunblock lotion is better than sunblock spray or sticks.

Simple mathematics will tell you a bottle of SPF 50 sunblock lotion is the same as a bottle of SPF 50 sunblock spray or stick. All gives an equal protection of SPF 50. The only difference here is the mode of application, and personal preference. Women tend to like sunblock lotions because of they feel more moisturizing to skin, while men tend to go for the sprays to avoid greasy hands after application.

Myth 6: I have applied sunblock. Now, I can leave the bottle behind.

Not so fast. According to research, published in 2001, by the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen works best when it is applied before going out into the sun, and reapplied after 15-30minutes of sun exposure. After that, the general rules of reapplication applies. If you are outdoor, reapply every 90 minutes. If you are indoor, use this formula: (# of minutes for you to get sunburn) x (your applied SPF strength). For example, if  it takes you 15 minutes to get sunburn and you have on SPF 15, then your sunscreen should last 225 minutes (15 mins x 15 SPF), that’s 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Myth 7: My sunblock lotion has an expiry date, and as long as that date is not passed, the lotion is good for use.

First step is to always check the expiration date of your sunblock. But it does not end there. Did you know that sunscreen that is exposed to high temperatures (ie. left on the sun bed or exposed directly to the sun) have a shorter shelf life? Chemical reactions to the high temperature can alter and break down the protective elements against UVA rendering your sunblock ineffective for use. Once opened, try to finish using the sunscreen within the next 12 months. So if you are packing for your annual family beach holiday, make sure to purchase a new bottle of sunscreen every time.

Myth 8: Most sun damage occurs in the teenage years and early 20s.

Actually, it occurs a lot earlier. Most effects of sun damage on skin such as age spots, wrinkles and freckles start to show when we age (somewhere in our 30s onwards). But it is an accumulative effect starting from when we were young as infants, toddlers and preschoolers. No wonder despite my efforts now to prevent skin pigmentation, my age spots continue to grow in size and fresh freckles are always evident.

Myth 9: The higher the SPF, the better.

There are sunblocks you can buy that have SPF 50, 65, 75, 80 even up to 130, but higher does not necessarily mean better. Most experts recommend SPF 15 to 30 for everyday use. The purpose of going higher than the recommended generally is for people under certain medication who may need more protection. Blood pressure drugs and several antibiotics are known to increase the skin’s sensitivity, including people who have just undergone comestic surgery. For these selected few, a higher than normal sunscreen protection is necessary. While SPF 15 and SPF 30 remain the conventional choice, there is no harm slathering on a higher SPF if you like. However, never use a higher SPF as an excuse to apply less product, apply less frequently or spend more time in the sun than you normally would.

Myth 10: Sunscreen is toxic.

Like other skin care products we use everyday, sunscreens contain chemicals. The real question is ‘Are these chemicals safe or are they toxic to human use?. Most sunblock in the market have been tested for safety, with formulations containing titanium oxide and zinc oxide. These chemicals are gentle enough for babies, children and people suffering from sensitive skin. With normal use, they are safe. Very safe. In fact, zinc oxide is found as a food additive in breakfast cereals and titanium oxide is used in food coloring, medicine and toothpaste.

However, there are other ingredients in some sunscreen products that may raise health concerns such as oxybenzone – a possible carcinogen, and nano particles of titanium oxide and zinc oxide. As much as possible, opt for sunscreen that are made with natural and organic filters, and without the usual suspects (alcohol, parabens, alcohol, mineral oil, propylene gylcol, ethanolamines and phthalates). You may find them at your natural organic boutique outlets.

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