“Don’t forget your sunscreen!” Mom yells as you dart out the back door. You probably grabbed the closest tube without checking the expiration date and assumed the higher the SPF, the better. Well, not to burst your sunscreen’d bubble, but there is more to it than.

There are actionable ways to keep yourself and your kids safe in the sun, and it starts with knowing the facts. We’re all familiar with the effects of long-term sun exposure (sunburn, heat exhaustion, skin cancer, etc.), but let’s start with the source. All three of them…

The ABC’s of UV Radiation 

(Source: Skin Cancer Foundation)

  1. UVA rays are the most prevalent (accounting for 95% of UV radiation on Earth) and penetrates the skin deeper than UVB rays. You know these rays as the ones that give you wrinkles. Contrary to previous belief, they were more recently proven to contribute to the development of skin cancer.
  2. UVB rays have the greatest effect on the outer layer of the skin. They are the ones that give you that painful lobster-red sunburn. They are also the primary player in skin cancer development. Contrary to UVA, they do not penetrate glass very well, so you’re safe indoors.
  3. UVC is the most powerful, but fortunately doesn’t penetrate the ozone layer. That said, sunscreen brands with “UVC protection” on their labels may be misinformed, so be wary.

Now that you know the difference, let’s de-bunk some common myths about sun protection.

What are some common myths about sunscreen? 

(Source: EWG)

Myth 1: Double the SPF Means Double the Protection:

SPF 100 is not twice as effective at SPF 50. In fact, above SPF 50, you won’t be getting that much added protection from your sunscreen. Regardless of SPF, you should be re-applying at least a shot glass’s worth of sunscreen every 2 hours.

Myth 2: Sunscreen Lasts Forever:

The FDA requires all sunscreen to last for at least 3 years, but double check the expiration date. Better yet, use it up quicker (looking at all of you who only use it in the summer…just because it’s not hot out doesn’t mean you don’t need protection!) Pro tip: check for a date when you buy it, and write it on the bottle if it’s not there.

Myth 3: Babies Need Extra Sunscreen:

You should not use sunscreen on a baby who’s 6 months or younger. Your best bet is to keep them out of the sun as much as possible. This may not be realistic, so make sure they’re properly covered when in the sun.

Myth 4 : UVA Protection is Enough:

As you just learned – we need protection from both UVB and UVA rays. In terms of sunscreen, this is called “broad spectrum.” Ideally it’s also water-resistant in case you take a dip in the pool.

Myth 5: Chemical Sunscreens are Scary:

According to dermatologists, chemical and physical sunscreens are safe and do their job. You may have heard the hype about using physical sunscreens (with physical agents such as zinc) instead of chemical sunscreens with chemical UVA blockers. It’s more important that you find a broad-spectrum, SPF 30-50, water-resistant formula.

Now you’re an expert! If you need a good list of kid-friendly sunscreens, we recommend this one.

Enjoy your summer days, sunburn and heat exhaustion free (and when in doubt, find some shade and cover up!)