A survey from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) found that proper sun protection is a bigger priority to 82% of Americans than it was five years ago. But, interestingly, the AAD also found that most Americans don’t fully understand what that entails.
Is wearing sunscreen more important now than in previous years, and how can we maximize its benefits? Let’s explore some common sun protection myths and facts to help you stay healthy for years to come.
Is wearing sunscreen more important now than in the past?
It’s true: protecting yourself from the sun properly is more crucial now than ever.
Scientific research shows that the ozone layer, our planet’s natural shield against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, has been thinning for the past two decades. This natural barrier’s depletion means we’re getting exposed to an increasing number of UV rays.
While most Americans don’t spend much time outdoors, the heightened risks of sun damage are still real and potentially severe, including:
- Premature aging
- Cataracts and other eye damage
- Immune system suppression
- Skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in America
The sun is a major source of vitamin D, which is essential for overall health. But it’s crucial to balance the benefits and risks of sun exposure.
Americans’ perceptions and misunderstandings about sun protection
The AAD’s survey revealed a concerning gap in our understanding of sun protection. Despite the 82% of Americans who recognize sun safety’s importance, the survey found that our day-to-day practices tell a different story.
While 62% of Americans gave themselves a “good grade” on their sun protection efforts, 63% reported getting a tan, and 33% experienced sunburns–two tell-tale signs of sun damage.
There’s also some confusion around SPF. 67% of survey respondents believe SPF 30 offers twice the protection of SPF 15–but in reality, the difference is much smaller.
Many Americans also simply forget to use sun protection, and 65% admitted to occasionally skipping sunscreen reapplication.
Addressing misconceptions and adopting regular, healthy habits is crucial for our health. So, next, let’s examine some of the most common sun protection myths and facts.
Sunscreen myths and facts
Myth 1: Higher SPF guarantees sunburn protection
Fact: While high SPF sunscreens do provide more protection, none shield you from UV rays completely.
And remember, SPF 30 doesn’t block twice as many UV rays as SPF 15. The amount of protection provided only increases in small amounts.
- SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97% (a 4% difference)
- SPF 50 only blocks 98% (so, 1% more than SPF 30)
Also, SPF formulas of 50 and higher often contain more synthetic chemicals, which can disrupt hormones in the body, potentially leading to other health problems.
Myth 2: Tanning is healthy
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, a tan is evidence of skin damage.
According to Dr. Mark D. Kaufmann, Fellow and President of the AAD, “There is no such thing as a safe tan.” He says each time you tan or burn, you’re damaging your DNA–and “the more you damage your DNA, the greater your risk of getting skin cancer.”
Myth 3: You only need sunscreen on sunny days
Fact: UV rays can penetrate clouds and cause skin damage, even on overcast days. So, it’s important to make sunscreen a part of your daily routine–regardless of the weather.
And surfaces like sand, water, snow, and even concrete can reflect UV rays, increasing your exposure.
Myth 4: Shade is UV-ray-proof
Fact: While shade provides some sun protection, it doesn’t give you complete coverage.
A study published in JAMA Dermatology found that beach umbrellas actually offer less protection than high-SPF sunscreen.
How to protect yourself from the sun properly
Now that we’ve debunked those sun protection myths, let’s dive into some all-around strategies to keep your skin safe and healthy.
Use broad-spectrum sunscreen correctly
A common question about sun protection is how much and how often sunscreen should be applied.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: apply roughly one ounce (about one shot glass-worth) of a broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30 on all exposed skin every two hours–and more often if you’re sweating or swimming.
Dress for sun safety
Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight long-sleeve shirt, wide-brimmed hat, pants, and sunglasses with UV protection.
You can even find clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) label for enhanced defense against both UVA and UVB rays–although this clothing still won’t shield you 100%.
Seek shade when the sun’s at its peak between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.. But remember, it’s only part of a sun safety strategy. Keep reapplying your sunscreen and wear protective clothing for better coverage.
Keep an eye on the daily UV index to gauge the sun’s strength and plan your outdoor time. And be cautious of reflective surfaces like water and sand.
Get regular skin exams
Visit your dermatologist regularly to monitor any changes in your skin. This is key for early skin cancer detection and prevention.
Practicing effective sun protection is more important than ever before. But by clearing up common misconceptions and incorporating the above strategies into your routine, you can enjoy the outdoors while minimizing the risk of sun damage–even with a thinning ozone layer.