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Sunscreen Facts and Myths

Woman applying sunscreen

July 30, 2021

Summertime is for swimming and outdoor activities, but it also means plenty of exposure to the sun. Too much exposure can lead to unwanted skin damage and burns. That’s where sunscreen helps to avoid the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of myths surrounding sunscreen’s usage and effectiveness. Dermatologist Anand Rajpara, MD, helps dispel myths about sunscreen.

Facts and myths about sunscreen

  • Not only does sunscreen help prevent skin cancer like melanoma, it also protects people from developing wrinkles and sun damage. This keeps your skin looking healthy and younger.

    “You'll notice that people who practice excellent sun protection from when they're younger usually look 5 to 10 years younger than their age,” says Dr. Rajpara.

  • In May 2021, Valisure tested and detected benzene in several sunscreens. Benzene is a chemical that can cause cancer in humans with long-term exposure according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sunscreens that were detected to carry benzene were immediately recalled.

    To find a list of sunscreens that contained benzene in Valisure’s study, visit Valisure’s website.

    “If you're using a benzene-contaminated sunscreen, don't panic,” says Dr. Rajpara. “We actually get low levels of benzene exposure every day in the air we breathe from car exhaust, cigarette smoke, gasoline and fossil fuels. It’s nothing to panic about – just switch to a safe sunscreen and you'll be fine.”

  • Although people with darker skin are at a lower risk for skin cancer, they should still wear sunscreen to protect from sun damage, aging and hyperpigmentation. “In people of color, when they do develop melanoma, it’s usually detected later and with a worse prognosis,” says Dr. Rajpara.

  • There is currently no evidence that oxybenzone is harmful to most humans. While rare, oxybenzone can cause allergic reactions in some people. If you have concerns about oxybenzone usage, switch to mineral-based sunscreens. These do not contain oxybenzone unlike their chemical-based counterparts.

  • “For anyone who has a history of multiple sunburns or blistering sunburns – that increases your risk of melanoma by 50%,” says Dr. Rajpara. “For anyone with a first-degree relative who has a family history of melanoma, we know that doubles your risk. And people with lots of moles – if you have more than 50 moles, you're at increased risk. So you should get checked out by a doctor.”

  • Aerosol sunscreens are safe to use on human skin. However, they are easy to accidentally inhale, which can exacerbate allergies and asthma. They are also bad for the environment. For these reasons, doctors generally recommend lotion sunscreen over aerosol sprays.

More important facts about sunscreen

  • Doctors recommend using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Reapply sunscreen frequently throughout the day when exposed to the sun, especially after being in water.
  • Layers (pants, long sleeves, etc.) can also protect from sun damage.
  • Mineral-based sunscreens sit on the top of the skin and reflect the sun, while chemical-based sunscreens are absorbed into the skin.
  • Mineral-based sunscreens cause less irritation, fewer allergies, and are better for acne-prone skin and people who deal with hyperpigmentation and melasma.

Make an appointment

See a dermatologist or your primary care physician for questions or concerns about skin damage.

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