False facts you believe about sunscreen

It’s getting to that time of
year — jackets are shedding, pant lengths are shortening, and beauty writers
hammer you with sunscreen articles. You probably feel like you’ve seen them all
and know everything you need to know. However, some of what you believe may not
actually be the truth. That is why we wanted to set the record straight, once
and for all. I spoke with three top dermatologists to get the average
misconceptions people have about sunscreens. See what they said to make sure
you’re not one of the false believers.
sunscreens are created equal
There’s, of course, a
difference in sunscreens based on SPF (or Sun Protection Factor) levels, which
we’ll get into later. However, there’s also a difference when it comes to the
ingredients in sunscreens and how they relate to ultraviolet (UV) rays. There
are two categories of sunscreens: chemical and physical. “Chemical
sunscreens are absorbed into the skin where they absorb UV rays,”
explained Dr. Jessica Weiser of New York Dermatology Group. “Most chemical
sunscreens act as a filter and still allow some UV to enter and damage the
skin.” She further explained that these chemical sunscreens require 20-30
minutes to become active. Meaning you have to apply any chemical sunscreens
20-30 minutes before heading outside.
As for the physical sunscreen,
they create an actual, physical barrier on the skin so not to allow any UV rays
to penetrate. “Typically, physical sunscreen contains either zinc oxide or
titanium dioxide,” Dr. Weiser explained. “These physical products
work immediately on contact.”
She also noted that physical
sunscreens can cause less irritation since most contain just one active
ingredient. “Many of the chemical ingredients are not stable on their own,
so many ingredients must be combined together to make an adequately
broad-spectrum stable product.”
best sunscreens are the ones that are more natural
With all that being said about
physical versus chemical sunscreens, that doesn’t mean that more
“natural” option — those using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide — is
necessarily better. “These are not the best sunscreens,” said Dr.
Ronald Moy. He explained that a recent Consumer Report showed that 43 percent
of all sunscreens were “inadequate” due to their inability to perform
to their slated SPF rate.
“These ‘inadequate’
sunscreens were almost all ‘natural’ sunscreens containing only zinc oxide and
titanium dioxide,” he said. “The chemical sunscreens containing
ingredients like Avobenzone or Mexoryl, or Oxybenzone were much more effective
at blocking all wavelengths of sunlight and performing as a broad spectrum
Skin cancer and SPF specialist
Dr. Craig Kraffert agrees with Dr. Moy. “The most common misconceptions
about sunscreens is that chemical sunscreens could cause cancer and should be
avoided,” he said. “Chemical sunscreens are the best sunscreens for
protecting the skin.” So it’s up to you to figure out which is best for
you and your skin. Consult your dermatologist if you’re concerned.
blocks all of the sun
Dr. Moy points out that a lot
of time, sunscreens give a false sense of security. “People believe that
sunscreens are so good that we are not getting any DNA damage,” he
explained. “Sunscreens block only a percentage of the light damaging the
skin over a day.”
So just be aware, sunscreen is
not completely and totally effective in blocking sunlight. Only avoiding the
sun completely or wearing sun-protective clothing can do that.
residue on the skin means you’re plenty covered

We’ve all been there, where we
think the pasty white residue on our skin means our skin is so completely
shielded that we’ll never get any sun damage. Not true. A white residue could
mean something as simple as you aren’t rubbing it in enough or are using a
physical sunscreen with only zinc oxide and or titanium dioxide.
“Correct application of a
chemical sunscreen should not give a white pasty look but should rub in so that
the sunscreen is invisible,” confirmed Dr. Moy.
a higher SPF provides significantly better protection for longer
You’re protecting against more
than simply “the sun” when you wear sunscreen. Technically, you’re
protecting against both UVB and UVA rays. While UVB rays are the ones
responsible for sunburns, UVA are the ones that create long-term skin damage.
The SPF number is simply a
reflection of the UVB ray protection. For protection of UVA rays, you have to
look at the broad spectrum. “Broad Spectrum is a simple statement that
indicates that the product has met a certain threshold for UVA
protection,” explained Dr. Kraffert. “Broad Spectrum is important in
minimizing sun damage and melanoma risk.”
So while a higher number
doesn’t hurt, you want to pay attention to both the SPF and broad spectrum
number. A higher SPF also doesn’t mean that it protects the skin longer, you
still need to reapply regularly confirmed Dr. Moy.
SPF in a tanning bed protects your skin
“There is no circumstance
under which tanning beds are safe,” exclaimed Dr. Wesier. “Tanning
beds emit mostly UVA-1 rays which are the most difficult rays to protect
She explained that zinc oxide
can protect these rays from deeply penetrating and creating lots of damage,
however, there’s no way to fully block them using any type of sunscreen product
— chemical or physical. So the safest answer to tanning beds is just to avoid
them at all costs.
clogs pores and causes acne
We’ve all heard this one
before, especially if you have acne-prone skin. While it can be true in some
cases, it’s not true for all sunscreens on the market. “There are many
sunscreens on the market that are safe, effective, and non-comedogenic,” explained
Dr. Wesier. For instance, micronized zinc oxide in small particles does not
cause occlusion or lead to acne breakouts.
She also pointed out that
those who use acne medication such as retinoids or oral antibiotics are more
sensitive to the sun and are more likely to burn. Therefore, it is key that
acne-prone skin types using these types of medications should consistently wear
sunscreen. You just have to find the best one for you.
“Titanium dioxide has
been shown in some circumstances to be slightly more comedogenic,” Dr.
Wesier explained. “Therefore acne-prone patients should ideally tend
towards zinc based products.”
only need sunscreen on sunny, summer days
You may have heard beauty
writers and editors stress the importance of wearing sunscreen every day
before. However, people still don’t believe that going SPF-free on cloudy fall
days will cause any harm. However, that is completely false.
“Sun damage is cumulative
and exposure occurs year-round,” explained Dr. Kraffert. “Repetitive
unprotected brief sunlight exposures cause significant cumulative damage and
skin aging.”
Therefore, it is not just
those bad July beach-day sunburns that are damaging your skin it’s also the
day-to-day exposure. For instance, Dr. Kraffert mentioned that clinical practice
has suggested that people don’t apply enough sunscreen while driving.
“There’s been more skin cancer or damage on the left side of the
face.” He also pointed out that most ultraviolet rays penetrate clouds. So
even if it looks like you don’t need it, apply it. Better safe than sorry,
how to protect your skin
As Dr. Kraffert put it,
“Sunscreen is a tool. The challenge is not sunscreen itself. The real
issue is that optimal sun protection is an ongoing work project. It pays off in
amazing ways – but requires diligent faithful product application over a
You always knew sunscreen was
important, living in the 21st century and all. However, using the
“tool” correctly is just as important as using the tool at all. So
just make sure you get your facts straight and understand the best way to
protect your skin.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.