4 Myths and Facts About Sunburn

Updated: May 12, 2017

Are you damaging your skin without knowing it? Find out the truth about the summer sun.

1. I can get sunburned through a window.

Myth, but you still need sunscreen. Window glass in cars, homes, and buildings blocks the sun’s UVB rays, the ultraviolet light responsible for sunburn — but it doesn’t stop UVA rays. These penetrate deep into the skin, damaging the collagen fibers that keep skin looking firm and increasing risk for skin cancer. If you spend a lot of time close to a sunny window or driving in the car, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

2. SPF-80 sunscreen is better than an SPF-50

Fact, but only by a tiny bit. Protection doesn’t increase in proportion to the SPF number; the higher you go, the less the added benefit. An SPF-15 protects against about 93 percent of UVB rays; an SPF-30, 97 percent; an SPF-50, about 98 percent; and SPF 100, about 99 percent. More important than what SPF you use (assuming you use at least 30) is how much sunscreen you use, how often you reapply it, and whether the sunscreen is broad-spectrum — that is, in addition to protecting against UVB rays, the kind that cause sunburn, it protects against UVA rays, the kind that cause skin cancer.

To ensure the best UVA protection, look for the ingredients zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, meradimate (methyl anthranilate), ecamsule (Mexoryl SX), dioxybenzone, or avobenzone. And slather yourself well. It takes about an ounce of sunscreen, an amount that will fill your entire palm, to adequately cover an average-size adult. Apply the first coat 20 to 30 minutes before going outdoors so your skin can absorb sun-blocking chemicals. Reapply every 2 hours even on cloudy days, sooner if you’ve been swimming or are sweaty. Even water-resistant and waterproof types can stop working after about 40 to 80 minutes.

3. I can’t go out in the sun when taking antibiotics.

Fact, but it depends what type of antibiotic you’re taking. The ones most likely to make your skin extra-sensitive to the sun include tigecycline (Tygacil), sulfa drugs such as mafenide (Sulfamylon) and sulfacetamide (Klaron), and tetracyclines such as doxycycline (Periostat) and minocycline (Minocin). If you’re taking one of these, limit your time in the sun, and when you must be out in it, cover up well with clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. This goes for the entire time you’re on the drug.

4. It’s too late for me to stay out of the sun; the damage is done.

Myth. You can still keep out of the sun and slather on sunscreen (and moisturizer) every morning! It’s never too late to prevent further skin damage. Also, if you smoke, stop. Smoking is a known cause of wrinkles and premature skin aging. Heavy smoking and more than 2 hours a day of sun exposure over time makes it about 11 times more likely that you’ll develop a faceful of wrinkles compared with someone who doesn’t smoke and stayed out of the sun.

You should also sleep differently. So-called sleep lines develop in women who sleep on their stomachs or sides with their faces smushed into the pillow. Instead, try sleeping on your back.

The other option for preventing wrinkles is Botox injections. Botox is a toxin, botulinum, that paralyzes facial muscles, preventing the repeated contractions that can cause wrinkles. But Botox is expensive and the injections must be repeated every few months. Plus, there is little evidence on the long-term effects of repeated injections.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest