The biggest sunscreen myths debunked

We’re separating fact from fiction when it comes to protecting your skin.

Sunscreen

Thought you knew about protecting your skin from sun damage? What you don’t know will surprise you. Get the facts on sunscreen to keep your skin safe this summer.

Fiction: SPF 15 provides enough coverage for your skin

“Everyone should be wearing at least SPF 30,” says Anatoli Freiman, chair of the Canadian Dermatology Association’s sun-protection program and medical director of the Toronto Dermatology Centre. People with certain medical disorders or diseases, like lupus, or who are taking prescription medications that increase photosensitivity, including some antibiotics and acne medications, are advised to use sunscreen with an even higher SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number. Keep in mind that SPF only refers to protection from UVB rays, so you need to look for the phrase “broad spectrum” on the bottle, which means it also protects against UVA rays, shielding your skin from sunburn and the aging effects of deep-tissue skin damage.

Read more: Family sunscreen safety>

Fact: You should pitch that old tube of sunscreen

Most brands have a shelf life of three years, but once opened, sunscreen begins to degrade. A bottle shouldn’t last longer than a season if you’re applying it properly. Remember these rules: a nickel-size dollop for your face, two tablespoons per limb, and two tablespoons for your chest and back.

Fiction: Once you’ve applied sunscreen, you’re all set for the day

To avoid a burn, it’s important to reapply sunscreen to all exposed skin throughout the day. For a casual day outdoors, repeat your sunscreen routine every two hours. If you’re swimming or working out, you’ll need to slather it on more frequently—every 40 to 80 minutes.

Fact: Your lips and ears are at HIGH risk of skin cancer

Lips and ears are two of the most common areas where melanoma occurs because they’re often forgotten during sunscreen applications. “Get in the habit of applying sunscreen from the hairline down, covering your ears, the back and front of your neck and finishing with your décolleté,” advises Leala McInerney, an educator and skin therapist at The International Dermal Institute. Choose a lip product that contains SPF 30 or higher and reapply every hour that you’re out in the sun.

Read more: 9 sunscreens you will love>

Fiction: If your makeup has SPF you don’t need to use sunscreen

Think of the SPF in your foundation or powder as a bonus layer of protection, says McInerney. Even if your beauty products contain SFP 30 (many are only SPF 15), you’re likely not applying them evenly or heavily enough to provide maximum protection. Use a sunscreen or moisturizer containing a minimum of SPF 30 under your makeup to ensure your skin is fully shielded from the sun.

You need to take precautions, even if you’re in the shade because we’re always exposed to reflected light, which is particularly intense near water. Cover up in lightweight fabrics made of tightly woven materials, like cotton, or sun-protective clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating, and wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with 100-percent UV protection. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin.

Fiction: Sporty sunblocks are sweat-proof

Not even sunscreens specially designed to stand up to a workout are sweat-proof. In fact, according to Health Canada regulations, labels must say water- or sweat-resistant and specify if they provide protection for up to 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or perspiring. Even if you towel off before the recommended coverage time elapses, you should still reapply right away. “It’s always better to be on the safe side than risk a burn,” says Freiman.

Read more: Avoid spray-on sunscreen: Consumer Reports>

Red Alert

If you do get a burn, get out of the sun right away and apply a cold compress or take a cool bath. Then apply an after-sun gel containing lavender, cucumber or aloe to soothe the area and replenish moisture.

A version of this article appeared in our June 2014 issue with the headline “Summer skin truths,” p. 26.

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