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Have you been slathering on the sunscreen thick and heavy lately? Here are ten common misconceptions about sunscreen what you need to know to provide your skin with real protection.

Just about everybody knows that sun protection is essential to prevent skin cancer, dry skin, wrinkled skin, and age spots. But most of us at one time or another (including the author of this article) have suffered misconceptions about how to use sunscreen and sunblock. Here are the ten most common misconceptions about sunscreen.

1. Sunscreen, fuggetaboutit. I don't really need sunscreen.

The fact is, many people don't burn even if they don't use sunscreen. But it's really rare for people to have skin dark enough that they don't experience some solar damage when their skins are exposed to the damaging UV-rays of the sun. The fairer your skin, the more you need sunscreen. But even if you have dark skin, you need sun protection when your skin has been injured.

One of the ways the skin repairs itself after infection (for instance, after acne heals) or after injury (for instance, after a scrape or a scratch) is to make an antioxidant pigment called melanin. When the infection or injury is gone, the melanin is left behind. If you don't use sun protection while skin heals, you will accumulate spots on your skin.

2. When it comes to sunscreen, a little dab'll do you.

When most of us use sunscreen or sunblock, we squeeze out just a tiny dot of the protective agent and try to spread it just as far as it will go across our faces, arms, shoulders, and legs. The problem with trying to economize on sunscreen is that when it comes to sunscreen, more is better. 

Just how much sunscreen is enough? Well, if you weigh 400 pounds, you'll need more sunscreen than if you weigh 72. The greater your skin's surface area, the more sunscreen you need. As a general rule, at least one teaspoon (about 5 grams) and maybe 2 teaspoons (about 10 grams) is typically enough to completely cover the face, neck, arms, and hands. About 1 ounce (about 40 grams) or up to 2 ounces (about 60 grams) is usually enough to cover the entire body.

3. If you wear makeup that includes sunscreen, you don't need a separate application of sun protection.

Many foundation makeups include a small amount of chemicals that protect against injury from the sun. Typically, makeup is SPF 8 to SPF 15, that is, when you wear it, you can stay safely in the sun 8 to 15 times longer than if you didn't wear the makeup at all. If you live in a sunny, blast furnace climate like Arizona or Texas or northern Australia or the Middle East, however, that just isn't enough. In these parts of the world, your skin may need SPF 30 protection.

And if you wear light makeup, that is, you don't clump it across your face (and you don't, do you?) you may not get enough of the skin-protective avobenzone, octocrylene, OM-cinnamate, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and other useful chemicals that cosmetics makers add to their products for skin protection. Usually, it's best to put on sunscreen first and then apply makeup over it. However, if you use makeup that includes both foundation and moisturizer, and especially if you use makeup that also includes "skin repair" or "skin restorative" ingredients like Niacinamide, it's OK to skip the sunscreen step.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Diaz JH, Nesbitt LT Jr. Sun exposure behavior and protection: recommendations for travelers. J Travel Med. 2013 Mar-Apr. 20(2):108-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1708-8305.2012.00667.x. Epub 2012 Dec 4. PMID: 23464719.
  • Parisi AV, Kimlin MG, Mulheran L, Meldrum LR, Randall C. Field-based measurements of personal erythemal ultraviolet exposure through a common summer garment. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2000 Jun.16(3):134-8.
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