Sunscreen is probably the most misunderstood skincare product out there. It has its fair share of naysayers, and because the science behind it isn't the simplest, misinformation about it is practically everywhere. So let's do some myth-busting, shall we? Keep scrolling for six of the many sunscreen myths that you (and everyone you know) should stop believing:
1. Wearing sunscreen will make you vitamin D deficient.
Out of the many common health-related myths about sunscreen, the misconception that it can make you vitamin D deficient is by far one of the most prevalent. The logic to this, basically, is that blocking UV rays with SPF won't let us receive the nutrients we need from the sun—which isn't necessarily true.
For example, a study done in Australia showed no drastic difference between the vitamin D levels of those who wore sunscreen and those who used a placebo cream throughout an entire summer. Irregular and insufficient sunscreen use (which are very common and often accidental) also allow us to still receive sunlight, so it hardly makes a difference to our vitamin D levels. The real risk lies in not wearing sunscreen, since you won't have any protection from cancer-causing UV rays that also deterioriate your skin's functions.
2. You need to wait for sunscreen to "activate."
According to chemistry PhD and skincare blogger Michelle Wong, both sunscreens with mineral (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide) and chemical (avobenzone, oxybenzone) filters absorb UV light right after application. Meaning, you don't need to wait 15 or even 20 minutes for the formula to "activate." However, Michelle states that it's beneficial to allow your sunscreen to settle on your skin for a few minutes (dermatologists recommend this as well) to allow absorption of the formula for better protection.
3. Physical sunscreens are "better" than chemical sunscreens.
Physical or mineral sunscreens are products that use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as UV filters. These absorb almost all of the UV so it won't cause damage, then 5% is scattered.
Meanwhile, chemical sunscreens use the numerous UV filters available (the most popular ones being oxybenzone and avobenzone). These protect us from UV by absorbing them and turning into a non-harmful form which is heat—but it won't make your skin flame up, promise. Studies that have reported that they can be absorbed into your bloodstream are currently not a cause for concern either, and experts advise that it's still safe to use chemical sunscreens.
Both sunscreen types have pros and cons, but both mineral and chemical filters will protect you against sun damage. Neither is specifically superior—they even work better when combined in one formula! You just have to find a product that works for your skin's needs and it'll always better than nothing.
That said, if you have sensitive skin, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens tend to cause less allergic reactions than those with chemical filters. But if your issue with SPF is white cast, chemical sunscreens are best since these are less likely to give you that gray look.
4. All sunscreens can protect you against blue light.
We're often exposed to blue light thanks to the light from our devices. This has a smaller effect on our skin compared to the rays of the sun, but if you want to stay protected from it anyway, blue light is only blocked by a specific group of filters.
Because blue light is on the spectrum of visible light, you need iron oxides and pigmentary titanium dioxide in your sunscreen to protect your skin from it. FYI, iron oxides absorbs the light while the pigmentary titanium dioxide scatters light until the iron oxides absorb it. Tinted sunscreens usually have both of these filters!
5. You don't need to reapply physical sunscreen.
Some reason that it's not necessary to reapply physical/mineral sunscreens (ones with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) because they're more photostable than chemical sunscreens. But according to scientist Michelle Wong, this is false because chemical sunscreens are as photostable (sometimes even more so) as mineral sunscreens—it all depends on how the product was formulated.
More importantly, ALL sunscreens are meant to be reapplied every few hours regardless of the UV filters it uses. So whether you're using a titanium dioxide or oxybenzone-based sunscreen, remember that it will wear off especially when exposed to sweat, sebum, and water.
6. "Reef-safe" sunscreens are not automatically coral-friendly.
Sunscreens are often tagged as a culprit for coral bleaching, to the point where several sunscreen ingredients have become banned in Hawaii. This led to brands developing "reef-safe" formulas, which as well-meaning as these are, unfortunately does not automatically mean that it will not have no impact on corals. That's because the terms "reef-safe," "reef-friendly," and "biodegradable" are not regulated.
Instead, to make sure that your SPF limits impact, take a closer look at the ingredients list. You might want to avoid oxybenzone, octinoxate, enzacamene, and zinc oxide as these are components that have been shown to contribute to coral bleaching. Meanwhile, octocrylene, octisalate, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, octyl triazone, eamsule, mezoryl SX, and mexoryl XL are "safe" as studies have shown they cause minimal to no harm to corals.
You can also minimize your impact by limiting the sunscreen that leaves your skin. Opting for protective UV clothing over slathering your body in SPF is a great option, as well as wearing water-resistant sunscreen. It's best to allow your sunblock to settle first before going swimming so it won't immediately wash off in the water.
But at the end of the day, experts say that sunscreen in general have an almost negligible impact to coral. Recent studies point to climate change and agriculture management as the top contributors to coral bleaching. In fact, it's reported that the worst coral bleaching happens in areas without tourists and are caused by rising water temperatures. Coral reef studies expert Professor Terry Hughes even once said he "would place sunscreen at number 200" on the list of "bad things that human beings do to coral reefs."
Michelle Wong said it best: "Banning sunscreens to try to save coral reefs is a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic or polishing a scratch doorknob when your house is burning down."
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