Believe it or not, summer’s coming, and soon we’ll all be outdoors again enjoying picnics, sports, and walks in the park. It’s a good time for a refresher course on what those numbers on your bottle of sunscreen mean, and exactly which product is going to protect you.
Dr. Robert Skaggs and our team here at Kentucky Skin Cancer Center see the damaging effects of unprotected skin every day. As is true with most things in life, the old adage hits the nail on the head — “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
When it comes to avoiding skin cancer, sunscreen is a great place to start, but they’re not all the same. Here are some common sunscreen myths debunked for you.
Myth #1: The higher the SPF number, the more protected I am.
The facts: Dr. Skaggs recommends that all our patients use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30. This protects your skin from 97% of the sun’s UV rays, the ones that are responsible for the most common types of skin cancer.
Products with higher SPFs give you insignificantly higher measures of protection, and nothing can block out 100% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. So, stick with SPF 30 and remember to reapply every two hours.
Myth #2: The SPF number is all that matters.
The facts: While the SPF is a very important decision-making factor as you look over the vast array of choices on the shelf, you should also pick up that bottle and read the label a little more closely.
Look for products that not only block UVB rays, but also UVA rays that penetrate to the deeper layers of your skin and cause premature aging. If you see the words “broad spectrum,” you’re covered!
Myth #3: I don’t need sunscreen if I have dark skin, it’s a cloudy day, or I have a base tan.
The facts: Some sunscreen myths can endanger you and your skin, and these are some of the most malicious myths out there. Let’s take them one at a time.
Dark-skinned people have more melanin in their skin, and melanin is known to diffuse UVB rays, so you may not get burned easily. But melanin doesn’t protect against UVA rays or extreme exposure. And studies show that darker-skinned people have a lower chance of surviving skin cancer.
Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s rays still penetrate and damage your skin. And don’t forget that water, sand, and snow reflect those rays and amplify them, so you could be getting hit from all angles.
The whole concept of a base tan is dangerous and misleading. First, in order to get a tan of any sort, even a base tan, you’re damaging your skin. Second, your base tan may only allow you to stay in the sun for a few minutes longer (the equivalent of an SPF of 3 or 4), so it’s not even close to sunscreen.
Myth #4: Sunscreen is a superhero.
The facts: Sunscreen is a critical component of your daily skincare routine, but it’s not magic, and it does have a few shortcomings that you need to know.
Even waterproof sunscreen isn’t truly waterproof. Even if the label claims it stays on all day through swimming and sweating, don’t believe it. Always reapply sunscreen after getting wet and allow it to settle into your skin for about 10 minutes before diving into the pool again.
All sunscreen breaks down as soon as the sun hits it, so don’t trust it to last all day long. Reapply every 2-4 hours, even if you didn’t get wet.
Myth #5: Sunscreen never expires.
Sunscreen actually does expire. Not only does the sun degrade it when it’s on your skin, but time degrades it even when it’s inside the bottle. Always check the expiration date and opt for a fresh tube of sunscreen every year. While this can feel a bit wasteful, you want to ensure that your skin is getting the protection it needs.
Now that you know the facts about sunscreen, you can keep yourself and your family well-protected this spring and summer and enjoy the outdoors safely!
But, if you do feel concerned about the sun damage your skin has sustained over the years, call us today at either our Bowling Green, Kentucky or Franklin, Kentucky, locations, and we’ll do a skin cancer screening to put your mind at ease.