One of the quintessential products that you will find in any traveler’s backpack, especially when travelling to a tropical destination such as Maldives, is a bottle of sunscreen. We all know that sunscreen is important in providing protection from skin cancer but only a few know that it also helps to prolong the photo-ageing of the skin.

Before we start busting some myths regarding sunscreen, let’s get some basic facts right. Most of us who purchase sunscreen buy it based on the SPF. What does SPF indicate? The sun protection factor (SPF) is the measurement of a sun screening agent’s relative effectiveness in blocking the UV radiation. This implies that a sunscreen with SPF 15 allows an individual to remain in the sun 15 times longer without getting sunburnt compared to exposure without sunscreen.


Myth 1 - SPF helps protect from all UV radiation

Most sunscreens with SPF helps to protect from Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays which is the main cause of sunburns. However, numerous research shows that both Ultraviolet A (UVA) and UVB contribute to the premature ageing of the skin and development of skin cancer.  In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new regulations for sunscreen labels to emphasize the importance of 'broad spectrum protection' sunscreen that protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. In addition to this one can look for the ‘UVA star system’ which is usually present on the back of the bottle. The higher the number of stars the better protection from UVA.


Myth 2 - Higher SPF is better

By definition most people assume that the higher SPF the better the protection they get. However products with a high SPF of 75 or 100 are just marketing gimmicks as it does not offer a significantly greater protection from the sun when compared to the lower range SPF products. It was proven that at SPF 30 the UVB rays are blocked by 97% and at SPF 50 it is blocked up to 98%. So any number higher won’t be doing much benefit.


Myth 3 - Waterproof sunscreens do not come off in water.

The term “waterproof” actually refers to the persistence of the stated SPF after a maximum of 80 minutes of immersion in water. A product which is advertised as waterproof does not mean that you should only apply it once during the day. It is generally recommended that individuals reapply the sunscreens approximately every hour and a half when they are sweating or swimming. The new rules which were introduced by FDA in 2011 also encourage sunscreens to be labelled as water resistant rather than waterproof to prevent the consumers from being misled.


Myth 4 - Wearing sunscreen will lead to Vitamin D deficiency

Several studies have shown that wearing sunscreen do not reduce one’s levels of vitamin D.  The body needs very little UVB exposure to produce adequate levels of vitamin D.  In fact, some studies show increased vitamin D levels in those who apply sunscreen often, probably because they're the ones spending more time outdoors!


Myth 5 - A base tan will help protect you.

A tan is your body's response to UV damage. Your skin increases production of the pigment melanin in an effort to reduce further injury.  However, a "base tan" is not a very effective means of decreasing additional damage. It provides protection equivalent to wearing sunscreen with a low SPF of about 3-4.


Myth 6 - Dark skin doesn't require sunscreen

The reality is that all complexions can be subject to sunburn.  The difference between dark and light skin is the aforementioned pigment known as melanin. A dark skinned person might not need as high SPF as a lighter skin person due to the presence of melanin. However that extra melanin doesn't guard against the UV damage that accelerates ageing or causes cancer.


So based on all these myths what is the ideal sunscreen for every day-use? It is generally recommended that one uses a “broad spectrum sunscreen that absorbs both UVA and UVB and has a SPF ranging between 30 - 50”.