Spring is about to heat up. That means spring break and summer fun are not far behind.
Before you head outdoors to celebrate the season, protect your skin with a layer of sunscreen.
“Skin cancer is a big deal, but people don’t tend to realize that,” says Dr. Mona Z. Mofid, a dermatologist and medical director of the American Melanoma Foundation.
One in five Americans will develop a skin cancer in their lifetime, and one person dies every hour from the disease.
Applying sunscreen also can help prevent sun damage that causes your skin to prematurely age.
Unfortunately, many half-truths surround sunscreen. Buying into these falsehoods can compromise the effectiveness of the protectant. Before you choose the best natural sunscreen, consider these facts and myths.
5 sunscreen facts and myths
Myth #1: All sunscreens are the same
Reality: There are two major types of sunscreens – and understanding the differences between them is crucial, Mofid says.
Physical blockers work by reflecting the sunlight back off your skin. “Those are the ones that give you a little bit of that white sheen,” Mofid says.
By contrast, chemical sunscreens absorb the ultraviolet light, then denature it so that it does not cause a carcinogenic effect on your skin.
Mofid recommends using physical blockers, saying they fight the sun’s rays for longer periods. There is an easy way to identify these.
“Choose the ones that have titanium or zinc in it,” she says.
Another advantage of choosing physical blockers is that they do not contain two ingredients – oxybenzone and octinoxate – found in chemical sunscreens that have been linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.
“If you’ve ever seen dying coral, it breaks your heart,” Mofid says.
Myth #2: Sunscreens are always greasy
Reality: Some people will not wear sunscreen because of the way it smells or feels. But Mofid says sunscreen is a multi-billion-dollar industry that caters to a wide range of wants and needs.
“I always tell people there’s a color, flavor and smell for everybody,” she says. “They make them with glitter for kids, they come in sprays, creams and lotions.”
So, experiment until you find the right choice for you. The effort is well worth it.
“I say half-jokingly that no one ever died from using sunscreen, but one person dies every hour from skin cancer,” she says. “So, pick which one you want.”
Myth #3: Sunscreen SPF ratings don’t matter
Reality: Too many people accept the myth that sun protection factor ratings do not matter. “That’s not true,” Mofid says flatly.
Mofid says government SPF ratings are based on 1 ounce of product. “So, when it says an SPF of 15, it’s if you use an ounce,” she says.
But almost nobody uses a full ounce – about a shot-glass full. That means most people only apply enough sunscreen to get about 20 percent to 30 percent of the SPF written on the bottle.
“That’s why the SPFs of 15 aren’t great for being at the beach or out on the golf course,” Mofid says. “Because you’re not getting an SPF of 15. You’re probably achieving an SPF of 4.”
Mofid recommends buying a sunscreen with a higher SPF rating.
“There’s usually not a price difference, so I say go higher on the number,” Mofid says. “An SPF of 50 is going to give you good protection.”
Myth #4: Using sunscreen is the best way to protect your skin
Reality: Here’s a surprise: Mofid says the best way to shield your skin is to limit your use of sunscreen.
“I like to advocate that people use clothing more than sunscreen to protect,” Mofid says.
Mofid says the right clothing can block 99 percent of the ultraviolet light. “So, you don’t have to reapply, you don’t have to wear sunscreen under it,” she says. “And frankly, it’s going to save you a ton of money.”
She acknowledges that there was a time when wearing too much clothing at the beach made you look like an oddball. “But now it’s in vogue,” she says, saying it is common to see people donning rash guards or swim shirts.
Myth #5: You only need sunscreen when you are headed to the beach
Reality: Contrary to common perception, people get most of their ultraviolet damage on a day-to-day basis, not during an occasional trip to the seaside.
“We actually get more skin cancer in America on the left side of our face, where in England, it’s on the right side of the face,” Mofid says. “That’s because the driver’s side takes (the sun). We get it from the car window.”
Mofid says the American Melanoma Foundation has calculated that the average person gets around six hours of ultraviolet exposure each day.
That means the stakes are high for everyone, even younger people. “The No. 1 group of people that get melanoma is actually women ages 20 to 29,” Mofid says.
So, apply sunscreen on a daily basis, she says.
“Brush your teeth in the morning and put some sunscreen on your face, your ears, your neck and your hands,” Mofid says. “Then, go about your business.”