The Sun and Our Skin: 7 Myths

Young woman wearing a sun hat, sitting on the grass applying sunscreen

The sun can be a key part of our outdoor fun, providing bright light and seasonal warmth for all our activities. But without careful preparation, this bright orb can also cause significant damage to our body’s biggest organ – our skin! Learn these sun safety facts and protect your skin this summer and beyond.

Myth - Wearing sunscreen blocks vitamin D absorption.

FALSE! No matter the SPF you’re wearing, some of the sun’s ultraviolet B rays still reach the skin, which helps contribute to vitamin D formation. Since vitamin D can be obtained through foods (such as salmon and egg yolks) or supplements, be sure to prioritize sunscreen. Talk to your primary care provider if you’re concerned that your vitamin D levels may be low. 

Myth - You need a high SPF number to see any sun protection benefits.

FALSE! When applying sunscreen, always aim for at least SPF 30 broad spectrum protection. However, wearing an SPF over 30 is a personal preference, as higher SPF numbers offer minimal added protection.  When picking a sunscreen, it’s best to find a formula that works well for your lifestyle, skin type, and activity level. 

“I recommend trying different sunscreens (SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum, and water resistant) that agree with an individual’s skin type because they will be more likely to wear it daily,” says Emily Hedley, a PA-C with Munson Healthcare Great Lakes Plastic Surgery and Skin Center. “For example, if you’re prone to dark spots, tinted sunscreens contain iron oxides which add additional protection against visible light which can contribute to this type of hyperpigmentation.”  

Remember no matter how high the SPF is, every sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours.  Fortunately, sunscreen has come a long way in recent years. If your sunscreen feels too greasy, causes breakouts, or doesn’t sit well under makeup, there are many other formulations available to choose from. If you have more sensitive skin, look for sunscreens with the active ingredients of zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, which tend to be less irritating. Medical-grade sunscreens – available through working with a dermatologist or a skin specialist like Hedley – can feel more luxurious to apply. 

Myth – You only need sunscreen and other sun protection methods on warm, sunny days. 

Person dispensing sunscreen into hand

FALSE! Sun protection is important year-round. In fact, some of the worst sunburns often occur during the winter! About 90 percent of the sun’s rays still come through on cloudy days, so no matter the season and weather, make sun protection a part of your daily routine by wearing sunscreen and other forms of sun protection. And always try to avoid the sun when it’s the most powerful, between 10 am and 4 pm.

It is best to make sunscreen application part of the morning routine. Making SPF a part of your daily routine ensures you’ll be protected from harmful rays regardless of your plans. Even when you’re not spending time outside, you are still exposed to blue light from digital devices and the sun’s rays through windows. Helpful tip – keep your sunscreen by your toothpaste as a reminder to apply daily! And don’t forget to apply lip protection with SPF and wear sunglasses to protect the delicate skin around the mouth and eyes.

Myth – A tan protects your skin. 

FALSE! Being exposed to the sun’s rays in any way causes damage to your skin over time. Even if your skin tans easily, not only does a tan not offer your skin extra protection, but the opposite is true. A tan is a sign of skin cell damage and contributes over time to skin cancer formation, as well as wrinkles and brown spots.  

Myth – Medications and certain foods can increase your sun sensitivity.

TRUE! There are many things you may interact with daily that can cause your skin to be extra sensitive to sunlight, causing burns and UV damage if you aren’t taking extra precautions. These include: 

Certain medications- Pain relievers, blood pressure medications, and antibiotics can make the skin more sensitive to sun exposure. Talk to your provider about photosensitivity side effects if you take any of these medications. 

Skincare products- Skincare containing alpha hydroxy and other acids as well as some acne medications can increase your sun sensitivity. Make sure you’re wearing sunscreen and protecting your skin to prevent burns. 

Parsley and citrus foods- Handling foods such as parsley and citrus fruits like lemons and limes prior to sun exposure can cause a painful reaction called phytophotodermatitis (often called “margarita burn”).  Avoid this reaction by washing your hands thoroughly after handling parsley and citrus, make sure to apply sunscreen on exposed areas, and avoid direct sunlight.

Myth - Visible sun damage can’t be reversed.

FALSE! There are many products and treatments that can help you reverse the appearance of sun damage on your skin. If you find that your skin can use some extra TLC due to sun exposure, consider applying a vitamin C product to your skin in the morning prior to applying sunscreen which has been shown to help fade brown spots and increase collagen. In addition, topical retinoids applied in the evening increase cell turnover and can also aid in softening fine lines/wrinkles and brown spots. Not all over-the-counter serums are as effective, so talk to your dermatologist or skincare expert* about the best products for your skin – and if it’s in your budget, ask about skin resurfacing treatments. Great Lakes Plastic Surgery and Skin Center has effective treatments, such as lasers, that can eliminate sun damage while dramatically improving your skin’s texture and appearance. The clinical team can also help you establish a medical-grade or prescription skin care regimen that can help combat sun damage.

*Talk to your provider before you start using new skincare products, as some products should not be used when pregnant, breastfeeding, or for those with certain health conditions. 

Myth: Cosmetics with SPF provide adequate protection from the sun.

FALSE! Don’t count on the SPF your makeup may contain to protect your skin. “It is nearly impossible to get enough sun protection from makeup regardless of the SPF on the label,” says Hedley. "Applying the amount of makeup necessary to achieve adequate protection is far more than most people apply. In addition, many cosmetic formulations with SPF do not have adequate protection against UVA sun rays, which has been linked to melanoma and sun freckling.  It is recommended to apply SPF 30 or above broad-spectrum sunscreen under makeup.”

The Facts Are In – Protect Your Skin!

When it comes to enjoying the outdoors while protecting your skin, sunscreen is one of your best tools. Make applying sunscreen a part of your daily routine for a lifetime of healthy, beautiful skin. Contact the experts at Munson Healthcare Great Lakes Plastic Surgery and Skin Center to learn more about the health of your skin and treatments to help you feel your best!

Expert Plastic Surgery and Skincare in Northern Michigan

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