5 myths about sunscreen

It’s time to dispel certain myths about the sun and sunscreens.

Myth 1: I don’t need sunscreen when it’s cloudy or when I’m under a parasol.

Clouds filter only part of the sun’s rays, and the percentage of rays filtered depends on the density of the cloud cover. Shade also offers only partial protection, because sunlight can be reflected onto your skin if you are on a smooth or pale surface, like water, sand, or a concrete patio, for example.

Myth 2: The higher the sunscreen SPF, the longer I can stay out in the sun.

Once applied to the skin and exposed to sunlight, all sunscreens gradually lose their efficacy, regardless of their SPF. That’s why it is recommended you reapply sunscreen every two hours if you stay out in the sun. 

The sun protection factor (SPF) is an indication of the percentage of UV rays that the sunscreen is able to neutralize. Beyond SPF 30, the gains in terms of protection are minimal: 

  • SPF 30 = 97% 
  • SPF 50 = 98%

Myth 3: If I use a sport sunscreen, it will last just as long, even if I go in the water.

Sport sunscreens are water resistant, i.e., they will stay on the skin for a certain time even if you go in the water or if you sweat a lot. However, water resistance is time-limited (40 or 80 minutes). No product is completely waterproof. 

Keep in mind that whenever you towel off after swimming or during physical exercise, part of your sunscreen will end up on your towel, which means you’ll need to reapply, even if the 40 or 80 minutes aren’t up.

Myth 4: Sunscreens with a mineral filter are better than those with a chemical filter.

Filters are active ingredients that interact with and neutralize UV radiation from the sun.

Mineral filters include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They act by forming a film on the skin that provides broad spectrum protection by reflecting UVA and UVB rays from the sun. 

Chemical filters like Mexoryl and Tinosorb are substances that interact with the sun’s rays to neutralize them. Chemical filters act to varying degrees against UVA and/or UVB radiation. Sunscreens often contain more than one filter, in order to provide protection against the full spectrum of UVA and UVB rays.

According to Health Canada, the chemical and mineral filters used in sunscreens on the market in Canada are generally well tolerated and cause very few undesirable reactions. Most reactions to sunscreens are due to inactive ingredients like fragrance and certain preservatives. 

Regardless of the type of sunscreen you choose, remember that it’s often how it’s applied that is problematic. Here’s how to apply sunscreen properly:

  • Apply to dry skin.
  • Use enough: It takes about 30 mL (2 tablespoons) to cover an adult’s entire body. 
  • Don’t forget the hands, tops of the feet, ears, and back of the neck. 
  • Reapply every two hours if you stay out in the sun, or more frequently if you have been in the water, sweat a lot, or towelled off.

Myth 5: Price is a good indicator of sunscreen quality.

With suncare products, as with many other consumer products, a higher price is not necessarily a guarantee of superior quality. It is more likely to simply be a reflection of brand awareness. 

Key characteristics of a good sunscreen, regardless of price: 

  • Protection against UVA and UVB rays: Look for the words broad spectrum or the anti-UVA logo 
  • SPF 30 or higher 
  • Water resistance 
  • Fragrance-free and paraben-free

If you have any questions about the efficacy or safety of sunscreens, ask your pharmacist.

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