7 Super Surprising Sunscreen Myths (Don’t Get Burned!)

Published: 08/23/2020

It’s a fact: Few products are as unexpectedly complicated as sunscreen. Sorry to be a Debby Downer, but as much as we all know we need to use it, we know surprisingly little about how to use it correctly and effectively. Sure, you may think you know. But do you really? Here are 7 surprising sunscreen myths and mistakes you need to know.  

#1 Sunscreen Myth: If I put some on, I’m good.

Nope. Not if you don’t do it right. An adult needs at least 1 ounce (a full shot glass!) to cover their body – and the average person uses less than half the amount of sunscreen they should be. Less. Than. Half!

Poor application means people likely reap less than half of their sunscreen’s UV-protecting benefits. And while you might avoid a dreaded sunburn (caused by UVB rays), UVA rays are still penetrating deep into your skin causing all sorts of damage. 

Also, In the case of mineral sunscreens (which are preferable for sensitive skin and reef-friendliness), if you rub it in too much, you compromise its effectiveness.

#2 Sunscreen Myth: We only need to use it at the pool or beach.

Nope. Backyard BBQs, afternoons at the park, and soccer games still call for sun protection. 

Because you’re in. the. sun. Also, sunscreen is just as important in the winter, too, since snow reflects and intensifies sunlight.

#3 Sunscreen Myth: If it’s cloudy, it doesn’t matter.

Nope. You might feel cooler and you can’t see the sun, but clouds don’t block the UV rays. In fact, roughly 80% of the sun's rays can penetrate clouds. You read that right. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, clouds filter less than 25% of the UV rays that penetrate your skin to cause skin cancer.

#4 Sunscreen Myth: If I’m inside, I don’t need it.

Not true if you’re sitting next to a window. Glass blocks UVB (skin burning) rays, but not UVA (skin aging) rays. And both can increase your risk of skin cancer. Similarly, car windows aren't effective either when it comes to sun protection. 

#5 Sunscreen Myth: SPF 100 provides double the protection of SPF 50.

"SPF stands for 'Sun Protection Factor,' which gives you an idea of how long you can stay in the sun without a sunburn under the protection of the sunscreen. For example, if you normally get a sunburn after 20 minutes on the beach with an SPF 15 sunscreen, you may stay on the beach for 20 minutes times 15, or 300 minutes (5 hours) without developing a sunburn. The high SPF will only extend the time of the protection but does not provide significantly more protection at a particular moment.

#6 Sunscreen Myth: “Reef-safe” sunscreens are preferable when you’re swimming in the ocean.

Nope. Many sunscreen brands claim to be “reef-safe” if they do not use oxybenzone and octinoxate (which have been banned in Hawaii), but they aren’t the only ingredients that may be damaging to marine life.

There are several other commonly used sunscreen ingredients—and found in many “reef safe” sunscreens—that might be harmful to marine life, such as octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate.

So, a helpful rule of thumb for sunscreens is to opt for natural mineral-based sunscreens, which have non-nano zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the only active ingredient(s). Be careful because sometimes the marketing trick is to say that the product contains zinc oxide on the front label, but when you flip it over you see zinc oxide combined with chemical sunscreens and/or other marine toxic ingredients.

The fact is the federal government requires sunscreen claims to be “truthful and not misleading,” but the term “reef-safe” doesn’t have an agreed-upon definition, and therefore isn’t currently strictly regulated.

Shameless plug: Hello Bello does not use any of these chemical sunscreens suspected of causing or known to cause harm to coral reefs. Instead, our active sunscreen ingredient for our lotionspray, and stick is non-nano zinc oxide, which has not been found to damage reefs and is recommended by the National Park Service.

#7 Sunscreen Myth: Chemical and mineral sunscreens are both safe.

Nope. Mineral sunscreens are the only ones the FDA has approved as GRASE. When the FDA first began evaluating sunscreen safety back in the 1970s, it grandfathered in active ingredients based on the assumption that these chemicals sat on top of the skin and didn’t impact health. After learning that many are actually absorbed into the bloodstream, the FDA started a re-evaluation process and in February 2019, the agency released its final draft sunscreens monograph that made the following conclusion based on the available safety data: 

“Of the 16 currently marketed active ingredients, two ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – are generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) for use in sunscreens; two ingredients – PABA and trolamine salicylate – are not GRASE for use in sunscreens due to safety issues. There are 12 ingredients for which there are insufficient safety data to make a positive GRASE determination at this time.” 

You read that right: The new FDA monograph gave GRASE designation to just two active sunscreen ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – the mineral sunscreens.

Also, mineral sunscreens are what the American Academy of Dermatology recommends for people with sensitive skin, as well as what the National Eczema Association recommends and what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for children with sensitive skin.

For more helpful sunscreen info, check out these posts!