Learn about Sun and Sunscreen Myths | Tammy Nguyen, PharmD | RxEconsult

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Common Sun and Sunscreen Myths Category: Cancer by - October 25, 2013 | Views: 25098 | Likes: 2 | Comment: 0  

Sun and Sunscreen Myths

Common Myths about the Sun and Sunscreens

Common Sun Myths

The amount of sun rays are the same throughout the day.

The intensity of sun rays varies throughout the day with less damage in the early mornings and evenings. Sun rays are most damaging between 10 am to 4 pm. Therefore, it is best to avoid sun exposure during this time but make sure to always wear sunscreen.

Tanning beds or other forms of artificial lights or lamps are not as damaging as the sun.

Depending on the duration and frequency of use, tanning beds and other artificial lamps are just as damaging or even more harmful than sun. They should be used with caution since they also increase the risk of skin cancer and other skin disorders.

When you are on the beach, a beach umbrella will block the sun.

Although you might think that you are protected from the sun when you’re under a beach umbrella, you are still exposed to the sun. Sand can reflect ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun and penetrate your skin. Therefore, it is always important to make sure you are properly protected even when you are under a shaded area in the sand.

You don’t have to worry about sun exposure when driving in your car because the sun does not penetrate windows.

This is a common misconception that is both untrue and dangerous. UVA is able to penetrate the car’s windows since it can penetrate deeper than UVB. Always make sure you are properly protected when driving, especially during long car trips.

The sun is unable to penetrate through the water.

The sun is able to penetrate through water even when you are in the pool. Therefore, make sure you always reapply sunscreen when swimming or sweating.

Clouds block the sun rays.

The clouds are not able to block sun rays completely. Therefore, it is important to use sunscreen even on cloudy days.

Common sunscreen myths

Tanning products with sunscreen provides optimal protection from the sun as well as providing a healthy tan.

Tanning products have a low level sun protective factor (SPF). They usually have an SPF of 10 or less and do not provide enough protection from the sun. The amount of SPF in tanning products is low to increase tanning. However, even a suntan without sunburn is a sign of sun damage. Therefore, it is important to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more to provide optimal protection from the sun.

People with dark skin do not need to use sunscreens.

Dark skin possesses more melanin than light skin and melanin helps to provide some protection from sunburns. However, it does not completely prevent sunburns and has no protection from UVR damage. The sun’s UVR is able to penetrate into the skin and cause serious damage to the skin’s DNA cells. Therefore, it is important to protect the skin from harmful sun rays regardless of skin color.

It is important to only apply sunscreen on your face.

Many people especially females think that it is only important to apply sunscreen to the face to prevent premature wrinkles and aging. However, it is important to protect all parts of the body that is exposed to the sun. Sun damage can lead to signs of aging in all parts of the body and not just the face. Make sure to apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure with approximately 1 ounce of sunscreen to each area of the body.

Sunscreens provide lasting sun protection throughout the day.

Sunscreens wear off especially after swimming or sweating. Make sure to reapply as directed on the product label. 

Any type of sunscreen will protect sun damage.

This is false! Not all sunscreens provide optimal protection. Therefore, it is important to choose a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or greater and broad-spectrum coverage since this provides the best protection against both UVA and UVB ranges.

Excessive sunscreen use can cause vitamin D deficiency. 

The need for excessive UVB exposure to increase production of Vitamin D is not needed nor recommended. There are numerous vitamin D supplements, vitamin D rich foods, and accidental sun exposures enough to produce enough vitamin D. Therefore, the need for sun exposure for the purpose of producing vitamin D is not necessary.  

Sunscreens are only necessary on sunny afternoon days. There is no need for them on cloudy, rainy, or during morning or evening hours.

It is important to alway protect your skin from during the day. Although, at certain times it may not be as damaging as others, it is still important to always wear sunscreen when you are outside. Ultraviolet radiation is still there even when the sun is shining brightly.

There is no need for sunscreens during the cold winter months.

Even on a cold cloudy day, both UVB and UVA rays can still penetrate the skin. Sunburns still occur during these months because people feel they can stay in the sun for longer periods of time without protection because they don’t see the sun. However, UVR is still able to cause damage to the skin even though the sun may not be visible.

When someone is allergic to a sunscreen, they most avoid all types of sunscreens to prevent another allergic reaction.

There are certain sunscreen agents that are more irritating and can cause allergic reactions. However, not all sunscreen agents cause allergic reactions. Therefore, if you had a prior allergic reaction to sunscreens in the past, try avoiding ones with aminobenzoic acid derivatives, benzophenones, cinnamates, or meradimate. You should try to use another chemical sunscreen without those sunscreen agents or switch to a physical sunscreen.

The use of a high SPF sunscreen provides 100% protection from the sun.

The use of a sunscreen alone does not provide 100% protection. Very high SPF (100+) does not provide any more sun protection than one with an SPF of 50. The FDA is currently working on a proposed regulation that would limit the maximum SPF value on sunscreen labeling to “SPF 50+” since there seems to be no added benefit when SPF is greater than 50. Remember to also protect your eyes from UVR damage along with the use of a sunscreen.

Read more about the different types of sunscreens for more information on available sunscreens and how to choose the right sunscreen.

Also read Tips for Preventing Sunburns, Premature Aging, and Skin Cancer


American Cancer Society. Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. July 6, 2010.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen drug products for over-the-counter human use; final monograph; technical amendment. Fed Regist. 2002;67:41821-23.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration.FDA sheds lights on sunscreens. 2012.

Gonzaga ER. Role of UV light in photo damage, skin aging, and skin cancer. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2009;10:19-24. PubMed

Kullavanijaya P, Lim HW. Photo protection. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005;52:937-58. PubMed.

Davidow LW. Self-Care and nonprescription pharmacotherapy. In: Berardi RR, ed in chief. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs: An Interactive Approach to Self-Care. 17th ed. Washington DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2012.

Diehl JW, Chiu MW. Effects of ambient sunlight and photoprotection on vitamin D status. Dermatol Ther. 2010;23:48-60. PubMed.

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