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Sunscreen Myths and Facts

Confusion about sunscreen and sun exposure puts a lot of people at risk for getting sunburn.

Myth 1: Do you need to use sunscreen if you have dark skin or already have a tan?

Yes. Everyone should use a broad spectrum sunscreen at all times when they are going to be out in the sun. Even people with deeply pigmented skin, who rarely burn, should use sunscreen. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity, is subject to the potential adverse effects of overexposure to the sun.”1 So use sunscreen, no matter your race or ethnic origin, or whether or not you already have a tan, because it is a myth that people with dark skin don’t need sunscreen.

A “base tan” isn’t a substitute for sunscreen either.

Fact: SPF is an acronym for sun protection factor.

Myth 2: Do you have to reapply sunscreen if it says that it is waterproof or that it has all day protection?

Yes. No sunscreen is truly waterproof. Instead, they can be water resistant and need to be reapplied every few hours or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. And no sunscreen really provides all day protection. Even with an SPF of 50+, you should still reapply it every 2 hours, or sooner if you have been in the water or sweating a lot.

Fact: Using a sunscreen or sunblock does block your body’s ability to make Vitamin D from sun exposure. While some experts use that fact to recommend unprotected sun exposure, if your child is following nutrition guidelines for drinking milk, then he or she should be getting enough Vitamin D.

Many experts think that the amount of sun exposure needed to get enough Vitamin D is minimal, especially if you have fair skin, and may just equal a few minutes a day. Most children probably get enough sun exposure for making Vitamin D from their daily activities when they are not wearing sunscreen. Talk to your pediatrician if you think your child needs more Vitamin D, especially if he or she doesn’t drink milk, has very dark skin, and/or is rarely in the sun.

Myth 3: Does a sunscreen with SPF 30 provide twice the protection of SPF 15?

No. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 provides protection against 93% of UVB rays, while one with an SPF of 30 provides 97% protection. Keep in mind that a sunscreen with an SPF of 2 only provides 50% protection, so be sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15-30. Many experts question whether using a sunscreen with an SPF above 30 provides much more protection since you are already blocking 97% of UVB rays.

Fact: You should apply your sunscreen 15-30 minutes before you are going to be exposed to the sun. Since it takes time for the sunscreen to be absorbed by your skin, you should apply it in advance. If you wait until you are already outside or until your child shows signs of getting red, then they will have a longer period of being unprotected and will be more at risk for getting a sunburn.

Myth 4 & Fact: Does a combination sunscreen/insect repellent provide good protection against both the sun and insect bites and stings?

While you can use a combination product to protect your children against both the sun and bugs, it may not be a good idea. Remember that you should reapply sunscreen every few hours, while you usually don’t reapply an insect repellent very often, or at all. Also, most experts think that insect repellents lower the SPF of sunscreens. So while a combo product might provide protection, it likely doesn’t provide good protection, unless your child is only going to be outside for a few hours.

Myth 5: Can you get a sunburn on a cloudy day?

Yes, clouds don’t block the UV rays that cause sunburn, so you can still get a sunburn when it is cloudy outside. Since UV rays can be reflected off of water, sand, snow, and concrete, you can even get a sunburn in the shade.

— Vincent Iannelli, M/D. –


  1. USA EPA. Sun. The Burning Facts. May 2001
  2. CDC. Insect Repellent Use and Safety. August 3, 2005