Just the Facts: Mythbusting on Sunscreen and How to Properly Use It to Safeguard Your Health

Summer is here and that means it’s time for fun in the sun! But before you head to the beach or hit the pool, remember to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 96,000 new cases of melanoma—the most dangerous form of skin cancer—will be diagnosed in the United States this year.1 The most effective way to protect your skin is to stay out of the sun, especially during peak hours from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.2

When you are outdoors, using sunscreen helps maximize your sun protection. But with so many options, choosing a sunscreen can be overwhelming. Is there a difference between sunscreen and sunblock? Does a higher SPF number really matter? We looked to the skin health experts to dispel some myths about sunscreen and offer guidance about proper use.

What SPF do I need?
Sun protection factor (or SPF) indicates how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays—the type of UV light that burns your skin. The sun also emits UVA rays, which cause premature aging. A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.

Experts at Mayo Clinic recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which theoretically means you could stay protected from UV rays 30 times longer than without sunscreen.3 SPFs greater than 50 provide only a small increase in UV protection, so they may not be worth the extra cost.4

Should I wear sunscreen if there is already SPF in my makeup?
Yes. Most likely, you aren’t wearing enough makeup to protect your skin.5 About two tablespoons of sunscreen are recommended to cover your face, your neck, and the back of your hands.6 Even if you slather on a moisturizer or foundation with SPF, regular activities such as walking would cause the SPF to wear off after a while.5

What is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?
Sunscreen contains chemicals that absorb UV light and prevent them from damaging the skin. Your sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours, or more often if you are swimming or sweating.6

Sunblock is a physical barrier that blocks UV light from reaching the skin by either reflecting light or absorbing it. These products contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and leave behind a white residue. Sunblock is long lasting and cannot be absorbed by the skin, so it may be a good option for children or people with sensitive skin.6

Why is it important to wear sunscreen every day?
Even if you spend a lot of time indoors, experts recommend wearing sunscreen every day to protect your skin from UV light. Because these rays penetrate clouds and can be reflected off water or snow, making sunscreen use a daily part of your routine is critical. Remember to wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat for even greater protection.7

By following these sun safety tips, we can protect ourselves and our families while enjoying our favorite summertime activities!


  1. Cancer Facts and Figures 2019 (American Cancer Society, 2019)
  2. Adult health and sunscreen (Mayo Clinic, May 2019)
  3. Shining the light on SPF in sunscreen (Mayo Clinic, July 2018)
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthylifestyle/adult-health/multimedia/shining-the-light-on-spf-in-sunscreen/vid-20431784
  5. Best sunscreen: understand sunscreen options (Mayo Clinic, May 2019)
  6. 6 sunscreen myths debunked (MD Anderson Cancer Center, May 2018)
  7. Mayo Clinic Q&A: Sunscreen best practices (Mayo Clinic, June 2016)
  8. How do I protect myself from UV rays? (American Cancer Society, May 2017)

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