Sunscreen Myths Debunked

Summer time…and the livin’s easy. But sun care is…complicated. When it comes to picking an SPF, choosing between mineral and chemical and knowing how to apply them correctly, anyone might feel overwhelmed. We know sunscreen is necessary, but how do we know if we got it right? Here are 5 essential truths about sunscreen that separate fact from fiction.

Myth: Mineral sunscreens don't work as well as traditional chemical sunscreens.

True or false? False. Both mineral and chemical sunscreens protect skin from UV rays. The difference is in how they work, and potential side effects from ingredients.

 Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as an actual physical barrier that works immediately, blocking both UVA (sun rays that lead to premature aging and wrinkles) and UVB (rays that cause sunburn). Chemical sunscreens use ingredients like oxybenzone or octinoxate that absorb UV rays and break them down before they reach the skin, but need 20 or 30 minutes to bind to skin to be effective.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tells us that minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have very low toxicity, and do not cause skin reactions or allergies. But it’s a different story for chemicals like oxybenzone, found in a majority of chemical sunscreens. EWG gives these chemicals in sunscreens high toxicity ratings due to their ability to penetrate the skin, disrupt our endocrine functioning and fairly high rate of causing skin allergies.

Myth: Mineral sunscreens are white and chalky.

True or false? False—you just have to apply them right. Easy application tips can prevent white streaks.

Mineral sunscreens should be applied differently than chemical versions because they are meant to lay on the surface of skin. Here are some essential tips:

  • Moist, hydrated skin is a must. Before sunscreen, apply moisturizer or a body oil like One Love Organics Gardenia + Tea Antioxidant Body Serum, which absorbs quickly (and added antioxidants boost protection from skin damaging free radicals caused by sun exposure).
  • Don’t use too much at once. Apply a small amount to hands, rub it between your palms for a few seconds, then pat it in, don’t rub in long streaks.
  • Move fast, working in small sections, since mineral sunscreen tends to dry quickly.

For sheer coverage on your face, try a tinted sunscreen like MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Cream, which is oil-free and an ideal makeup primer. For dry skin, try Bare Republic Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion, made with highly nourishing baobab and kukui nut oils.

Myth: Sunscreens are bad for coral reefs.

True or false? True—if they contain certain chemicals.

Oxybenzone can not only mimic hormones in our bodies, but can also causes changes to baby coral—including DNA damage, deformities and susceptibility to bleaching, according to the National Ocean Service. Because of widespread coral bleaching on its shores, Hawaii recently banned the sale of chemical sunscreens with oxybenzone, effective in 2021.

Skip the oxybenzone and look for Reef Safe sunscreens from BadgerMyChelleAll GoodGoddess Garden and Thinksport.

Myth: Higher SPF means you don't have to reapply as often.

True or false? False. Sunscreens with 30-50 SPF are sufficient for sun protection, but still need to be reapplied every 2 hours.

EWG says that SPFs over 50 can be misleading, since SPF 30 already blocks out 97 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Just make sure you look for sunscreens that are labeled “broad-spectrum” (meaning it covers both type of rays), like trilipiderm Broad Spectrum SPF 30 with Vitamin D or kid-favorite TruKid Sunny Days Sport Water Resistant Lotion SPF 30.

No matter what SPF you choose, all sunscreens should be reapplied after 2 hours, or after swimming or sweating excessively, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Myth: I only need sunscreen during peak sun hours.

True or false? False. We need sunscreen whenever we go outside, even on cloudy days.

 It’s true that UVB rays are strongest during peak hours and UV ratings are highest from 10am to 4pm, but UV rays are present even on cloudy days, so sunscreen should be used whenever you’re outside (check out the daily UV index in your area on the EPA website). If you’re in and out all day, try a lighter-feel sunscreen like Avene Mineral Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50  or CosMedix Reflect Broad Spectrum SPF50 Spray for non-greasy, lightweight daily coverage.