We’re tackling a few sunscreen myths to ensure The Baskforce continues to be the most knowledgeable group of SPF aficionados around!  

1. You need to reapply sunscreen because the UV breaks it down

Reapplying sunscreen is crucial. This is not because the SPF breaks down over time, but because the sunscreen layer gets less even over time. A smooth, even application is fundamentally important for SPF efficacy. 

Evenness diminishes over time due to skin movement, and the natural sweat and oil build up underneath sunscreen. Some sunscreen also evaporates, and wetness and water resistance also contributes to clumping. These things cause gaps in your SPF layer, which enables UV penetration. This is why around 2 hours post-application, labeled protection wanes (but not due to sunscreen ingredients' absorbing UV).

2. You need to wear sunscreen everyday

We’d argue you should! But this is nuanced and depends on your goals, lifestyle, and environment.

Goals: For example, if your goal is to have the pristine skin of a baby for the rest of your life, then wear your broad spectrum SPF every day. But if you are more concerned about skin cancer prevention, then you may just wear sunscreen on days when the UV index is high or you will be out in the sun longer than expected.

Environment: For example, we recommend that you apply sunscreen if the UV index is 3 or higher, or if you live at a high elevation (hello Mountain Baskers!). We also recommend wearing UVA protection if you spend lots of time near windows, in planes, or driving in a car.

Lifestyle: For example, if you spend lots of time outside for your job or recreation, then make it a daily habit to wear sunscreen. But, if you’re living in NYC, it’s the dead of the winter, sun’s setting at 4:30 PM, and your outside for a few minutes in between subway rides on a low UV index day, then you’re probably good and you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not wearing your SPF that day. 

3. Your sunscreen needs 15 minutes to sink in before going into the sun

This is not the case (but make sure to read paragraph two)! Your sunscreen does not need to “sink in” for x minutes before it is effective against the sun. Once you apply your sunscreen it will work immediately, regardless of whether it is an organic sunscreen (aka “chemical sunscreen”) or an inorganic sunscreen (aka “mineral” or “physical” sunscreen). 

You should, however, apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure so that it can “sink in” if you are going to be playing sports/sweating or swimming. If you apply sunscreen and immediately jump in the pool, then the sunscreen will just wash off of your body and you won’t have the protection you desired.

4. Mineral sunscreen is better for the environment

Turns out it’s the opposite! There is no evidence to substantiate the reef-damaging claims you may read about in the news outside of a handful of studies done in a lab where the circumstances have never been replicable in the real world. That is, these studies related to coral bleaching are flawed. The concentrations of sunscreen actives in the water samples isn’t applicable in the real world. The studies even point this out in their findings. 

On the contrary, mineral sunscreens likely have a more damaging impact on the environment because they have an exponentially higher carbon footprint vs. their chemical sunscreen counterparts. This is due to mining/extraction of the metals zinc and titanium, and then converting those mined metals into a material that can be used in a sunscreen formula. 

Interestingly, the EU’s regulatory agency on chemicals, the ECHA, only lists one sunscreen active as eco-toxic: zinc oxide. The agency has classified zinc oxide with harmonization codes H400 (“Acute 1: very toxic to aquatic life”) and H410 (“Chronic 1: very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects”).

5. Sunscreen causes skin cancer

We run into these claims a decent amount on social media, and clearly they are false. But let’s talk about them. 

The premise for the first claim is that skin cancer has been on the rise since the advent of sunscreen, and therefore sunscreen is the cause of skin cancer. First of all, correlation does not equal causation. 

The research on this is very clear. Sunscreen is perhaps the most effective prophylactic medicine we have available to us today. There is mountains of evidence over the past several decades that, not only does sunscreen work, but it works really well in helping to prevent the UV damage that causes the vast majority of skin cancers. 

But skin cancer is on the rise. Why is that? A few reasons:

1. Medical professionals are significantly better at identifying and diagnosing skin cancer than in the past.
2. Cumulative UV damage is what causes skin cancer. You don’t get a sunburn and have a diagnosable skin cancer the following year. It builds up over time. How good were people about wearing sunscreen in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s? That damage is coming to a head now, and is driving instances of diagnoses.
3.  Which is a good segue into the fact that tanning is as new a phenomena as sunscreen. Sunscreen may not cause skin cancer, but sunscreen brands of the past bear a lot of responsibility for perpetuating the toxic beauty standard that drove many to seek tans for decades. They even created products that were billed as a way to “get tan without getting burned” while protecting only against UVB rays that cause burning and not against UVA rays that penetrate deeper and are the primary cause of skin aging and melanoma. 
4. Also related to tanning, tanning beds came into vogue during the 70s to early 2000s. In 1987, tanning salons were the fastest growing business sector in the US. The industry continued growing until the early 2010s with the introduction of tanning taxes and increased awareness about usage risks.
5. The Earth’s natural sunscreen is the Ozone layer, and despite incredible recovery since the Montreal Protocol, there is still a hole in the ozone layer the size of New Jersey. That means that the sun and its UV radiation has never been stronger than over the past several decades.

Bonus: Natural sunscreens!

It’s also worth noting that there is no such thing as a natural sunscreen - at least one you can buy in a store. All sunscreens are made in a lab from synthetic ingredients. And all ingredients in any sunscreen is a chemical - zinc oxide is a chemical compound. Just like water and oxygen are chemical compounds. So when sunscreen companies make the claim that their sunscreen is “natural” or “free of chemicals”, then they are lying to you, and you should consider that a red flag.