Prevention & Recovery

The truth behind five sunscreen myths

By: Yuki Hayashi

Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

The truth behind five sunscreen myths

By: Yuki Hayashi
Like most Canadians, you probably have the "Put on some sunscreen" message drilled into your head, alongside "Practice safe sex," and "Wear a bike helmet!"

So why is skin cancer still on the upswing?

According to Health Canada, skin cancer rates have been increasing constantly over the past 30 years. In 2005 there were 78,000 new cases of basal and squamous cell carcinomas and 4,400 new cases of malignant melanomas. Yet most cases of skin cancer are preventable.

So, how can you protect yourself from skin cancer? The key is practicing safer sun. Read on and separate sun facts from fiction so you can keep yourself burn-free this summer, and reduce the risk of skin cancer in the future.

MYTH #1: Sunscreen is your first line of defense against sunburn.

TRUTH: Sunscreen and sun block should be used in addition to the biggest form of UV protection out there: avoidance.

• Try to stay indoors between the peak hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

• Cover up in garments that will shield you from the sun, including a wide-brimmed sun hat

•  Wear sunscreen or sun block, but try to stay in the shade as much as possible.

Up to 70 per cent of skin cancer cases can be prevented by avoiding skin damage from UV rays, says the Canada Safety Council.

MYTH #2: Sun block and sunscreen are the same thing.

TRUTH: Nope.

Sun blocks create a physical barrier
on your skin, using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect and scatter UV light off the skin surface so UVA and UVB rays can't penetrate and cause damage.

Sunscreens are absorbed into your skin
, and use chemicals like oxybenzone, homosalate, octisalate and other filters to absorb UVA and UVB rays where they are deactivated and degraded by contact from organic chemicals in the sunscreen.

Sun blocks have a slightly greasier consistency than chemical sunscreens.

Some critics charge chemical sunscreens with endangering human health by disrupting the endocrine system, mimicking sex hormones, and causing DNA damage. But it is worth noting none of the major health organizations have taken a stand against chemical sunscreens.

When faced with the task of buying suncreen, the best choice is simply the formula that you know you'll wear everyday. Look for full-spectrum or broad-spectrum coverage that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

If you're a natural-foods, organic-cotton kind of consumer, try a sun block like Lavera Baby & Children Anti-Ageing Sun Milk SPF 20. (

If you're a medi-spa aficionado, you may prefer an advanced chemical formula like Clinique Face Cream SPF 50 (

Page 1 of 2 – on page two: three more sunscreen myths busted!
MYTH #3: Put on your sunscreen just before you leave the house so it's fresh.

TRUTH: You know when the label says you have to apply a sunscreen 20 or 30 minutes before you go into the sun? They mean it. That's how long it takes sunscreen to absorb into your skin. Venture out on a high-UV day and you could burn before it even kicks in.

Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide-based sun blocks sit on top of the skin and work immediately. So if you're a slather-it-on-at-the-last-minute type of gal, they may be a better choice for you. Try Lavera NaturKosmetik's Baby & Children Sun Spray SPF 30 (, suited for adults with sensitive skin.

MYTH #4: I don't need sunscreen while swimming.

TRUTH: Unless you're wearing a wet suit (as in full-body scuba or surf gear), you need sunscreen or sun block.

Products labeled "water-resistant" maintain their SPF level after 40 minutes of water exposure, while "waterproof" products do for 80 minutes. Regardless, always reapply your sunscreen after toweling off.

Avid outdoors types should choose a biodegradable sun block rather than a chemical sunscreen as the latter has been implicated in damaging aquatic life, including bleaching and killing reef coral.

Try Soleo Natural Sunscreen SPF 30, a reef-friendly Aussie brand that sold out when it hit the US market last summer. It's now available in Canada at Vancouver e-tailer Lavish and Lime (

MYTH #5: SPF100 is the way to go.

TRUTH: Although a batch of SPF 50, 60, 70 – even SPF 100 – products have hit store shelves recently, most experts still stand by SPF 15 to 30 for everyday use.

That said, there are two arguments in favour of higher SPF products

• Those who are using medications like Accutane or retinol cream need extra protection from the sun, as do those who have recently undergone cosmetic surgery,

• There's a discrepancy between a product's stated SPF number and the SPF level it actually provides users in real life, given that most people don't apply nearly as much sunscreen as is done in the lab setting,

Upshot: SPF 15 and 30 products remain the conventional choice, but those needing extra protection won't find any harm in slathering on higher SPF face creams like Dermaglow 70 SPF Cream.

Just don't use higher SPFs as an excuse to use less product, apply it less frequently, or spend more time in the sun than you normally would – or to avoid the extra protection a sun hat provides.

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Prevention & Recovery

The truth behind five sunscreen myths