Living in the UAE means year round sunny weather, but unfortunately not year round sunscreen usage for the majority of people. This is despite sun exposure being strongly linked to skin cancer, premature skin ageing and dark spots. For some, it’s because they simply don’t care. Others might avoid protecting their skin due to myths about sunscreen. tabloid! talks to Dr Rahul Chaudhary, Specialist Dermatologist, Medcare Medical Centre — Discovery Garden, about five major sunscreen misconceptions.
1. Using sunscreen causes Vitamin D deficiency
This is a very controversial statement with lots of research in favour and against it. I strongly feel that currently it’s a myth and sunscreen use does not cause vitamin D deficiency.
In a 2019 reputed New British Journal of Dermatology study, investigators recorded an increase of vitamin D in participants during a week of cloudless weather, with very high UV index, even when sunscreens were used properly and prevented sunburn.
In terms of sun and health, one fact is clearly established: there is a definite link between sun exposure and the incidence of skin cancer/photo ageing. So it’s clear that we need to turn to other methods than just the sun to get our vitamin D.
Fortunately, getting sufficient vitamin D is easier than most people realise. Humans can meet the daily requirement for vitamin D through diet, vitamin supplements or a more outdoor lifestyle with reasonable sun exposure (usually 5-10 minutes of exposure of the hands, arms, and face, two times per week).
Some food products naturally contain vitamin D, like fatty fish species like cat fish, salmon, tuna; fish liver oils like cod liver oil; others are fortified with vitamin D-packaged milk, juices etc.
So if you’re worried about you or your children getting enough vitamin D to maintain your health, have a look at your diet first. It’s an easy solution and a lot healthier than sitting out in the sun.
2. People with dark skin do not need sunscreen
This is a common misconception that dermatologists are working hard to clear up. Although dark skin does offer more natural protection from the sun’s harmful rays than light skin, no one is immune to the damage caused by the sun.
Health experts advise everyone, regardless of skin colour, to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Although dark-skinned people won’t get sunburned as quickly, they will still burn and are still susceptible to sun-induced damage — such as sun spots, wrinkles and cancer.
3. You only need to apply sunscreen once
“I applied sunscreen in the morning so I should be set for the whole day” — the most common myth I hear in my office day in and day out.
Sunscreens generally only last about 90-120 minutes, especially if they are chemical blockers that break down after exposure to UV light.
Always re-apply sunscreen every two to three hours while you are exposed to the sun. Moreover, note that a normal sunscreen only offers protection against UVB rays. So, opt for one that mentions ‘broad-spectrum’ on the label. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will effectively protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
4. Ingredients in sunscreen cause cancer
False. There is no medical evidence that sunscreen causes cancer. There is a lot of medical evidence that UV rays from the sun and tanning beds do.
There are two main types of sunscreen — chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone, which work to absorb damage-causing UV rays. Physical sunscreens are made of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin’s surface, where they absorb, deflect and scatter UV rays.
Multiple randomised controlled studies and research have shown that both types are extremely safe and effective, and have been used by consumers for decades.
For those who are extremely cautious, we recommend using the physical sunblock since they cannot be absorbed by the skin.
5. SPF in foundation/make-up is enough to protect the face
Even if your foundation says it has an SPF 15 or so on, it generally isn’t enough sun protection for everyday use.
Make-up does not provide enough coverage. You need seven times the normal amount of foundation and 14 times the normal amount of powder to get the sun protection factor on the label. No one does this.
Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 that also moisturises and apply it as the last step in your morning skin care routine, right before your make-up.
If you’re convinced that daily sunscreen use is a must, Dr Victoria Scott-Lang, Consultant Dermatologist — Mediclinic City Hospital, explains how to make sure you’re well protected every day when out in the sun.
Top tips for sunscreen application
1. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you leave the house for it to absorb and to work effectively.
2. Use a separate sunscreen for your face from your moisturiser — combination products do not generally give enough coverage to provide enough sun protection.
3. Apply enough sunscreen. You need to apply the following as a guide:
Two teaspoon for the head, shoulders and neck.
Two tablespoons for the rest of your body.
4. Reapply every two hours.
5. Consider wearing sunscreen on your face and neck every day, not just when you are going to be outside for prolonged periods. Premature ageing of the face is primary caused by chronic sun exposure. I wear my sunscreen every day, regardless of what I am going to be doing.
6. For people with sensitive skin consider a mineral only (physical sunscreen) rather than a chemical sunscreen. These tend to be better tolerated than the chemical sunscreens for those individuals.
1. Forgetting to take sunscreen with you — lots of people get caught out with this. I suggest keeping some in your bag and car and at work so you always have some handy.
2. Not applying enough and not reapplying.
3. Not wearing sunscreen because it is overcast — these are the days that you are most likely to get caught out and get burnt. I know this from personal experience when I was living in New Zealand.
4. Not thinking about clothing — sunscreen is just one part of protecting your skin. Think about a hat with a brim, wearing a UV top (rash top) in the pool and on the beach, and wraparound sunglasses.
5. Spray on sunscreens have been proven not to provide adequate coverage in clinical studies — I would recommend using a lotion instead.