Myths busting

One of the main steps to protect our body against sun exposure and the negative effects of UV radiation is the use of sunscreen.

Myths around the use of sunscreens

As the climate is getting warmer and warmer, it is going to be necessary to better protect us from UV ray exposure to prevent the risk of skin cancer.

A crucial tool to avoid the sun turning into our worst enemy is sunscreen. Nevertheless, literature has shown that there still exist several myths that can lead to bad use (or no use at all) of sunscreen products.

Such myths include, among others:

  • Believing that the sun protection factor (20, 30, 50, …) is a measurement of the time that we can stay out in the sun.
  • Believing that sunscreen prevents from getting enough vitamin D from the sun.
  • Believing that sunscreen particles can be found on the brain cells 10 years after being applied.
  • Believing that chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays, while physical or mineral ones reflect them.
  • Believing that people with a darker skin tone do not need to use sun protection since melanoma only develops in people with lighter skin tones.

In addition, in some countries, these myths may add up to certain social beliefs, for instance, that tan is a synonym of beauty.

How to overcome existing myths?

To begin, it is important to clarify that the sun produces two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA rays and UVB rays, and the best we can do is to use a sunscreen that protects us from both types of radiation, ideally with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 as a minimum.

SPF indicates the measurement of UV rays’ blockage. It is calculated as the relationship between the quantity of radiation necessary to burn the skin with sunscreen and the quantity needed to burn the skin without protection. This means that an SPF 50 protects the skin 50 times more from the UV radiation needed to burn it without protection, an SPF 30 protects it 30 times more, and so on.

When the UV index (that measures the intensity of ultraviolet radiation from the sun) is equal to or superior to 3, it is advised to apply 2 milligrams of sunscreen per square centimetre of skin, that is the equivalent to half a teaspoon for the face and neck together and one tablespoon for the forehead, back, arms and legs. In addition, it should be applied around 15 minutes before being exposed to the sun so it can dry and stick to the skin. Then, it should be reapplied every two hours or every hour if you swim or sweat a lot. To sum up, it is recommended to use a significant quantity of sun cream and apply it very often.

Also, let’s not forget that sunscreen needs to be used regardless the skin tone. In fact, even though skin cancer is much more frequent among the white population, the death rate is usually higher in people with dark skin tone because it is diagnosed much later.

Sunscreen, either chemical or mineral, never block in full the sun exposure, which means that some UV rays will always pass through anyway, allowing people to get vitamin D.

Last but not least, it is important to remember that sunscreen use should not be applied to prolong the time we are exposed to the sun.

Beyond sunscreen, what can we do to protect from sun?

Sunscreen helps us avoid chronic burns that can lead to the development of skin cancer, but it shall not be the only method of protection from solar radiation, rather something that would complement other two important practices: looking for shade and avoiding sun exposure during peak hours. Moreover, you can always look for complementary aids such as using a hat or long-sleeved shirts, or other types of fabrics that would cover a larger part of exposed skin to the sun.

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