the truth about sunscreen

Sunscreenimage: flickr/Paolo Pino

Lately, scientists in the sunscreen industry have been in the metaphorical hot seat. Sunscreen use is at an all time high (good) but so are skin cancer rates (bad).  'Sunscreen causes cancer' would've made a much more sensational title for this post but it's actually misuse of sunscreen that's adding to cancer's success. People have a false sense of protection with sunscreens. Instead we should be getting smaller doses of sun and covering up more.

common misconceptions


  • my high SPF sunscreen blocks the sun's radiation

    There are different types of radiation from the sun. SPF (the sunscreen measurement we're most familiar with) refers to the level of protection against Ultraviolet B rays (UVB). This is great for stopping the burn because UVB rays are the ones that damage the skin and cause sunburn. Unfortunately, roughly 95% of the sun’s rays are the dastardly UVA rays that cause wrinkling and sagging. More importantly, they also trigger cell mutations that may initiate skin cancer. Sunscreens offer such minimal protection against UVA rays that in most cases is not even indicated on the bottle.

  • I'm not burnt so I'm fine

    Sunscreen provides a filter allowing us to spend all day in the sun and moderate the rate of tan, from beige to brown sugar. But the sun's rays that burn you are different from the ones that contribute to cancer. Think of sun burn as a smoke alarm. If you've been in the sun long enough to get burnt, you've been out long enough for UVAs to do damage. If you turn off your smoke alarm (aka putting on sunscreen) you won't know if the kitchen's on fire.

  • the sun is bad for you

    Staying out of the sun all day could be as detrimental to your health as staying in the sun all day. When sunlight touches your skin, your body makes vitamin D (you may not have heard about it because no-one's worked out how to make money out of it). Vitamin D plays an amazing role in preventing osteoporosis and breast cancer. Try to get small doses, often. Don't try to cram a year's worth of sun into one day at the beach.





protect yourself against uva

Sunscreen messes with your body's natural defenses against the sun's radiation: a sunburn is a gentle reminder to get out of the sun before the bad radiation shows up. The best way to protect yourself from UVA radiation but still get a good dose of vitamin D is to adopt the philosophy of “everything in moderation”. Go out in the sun (sans sunscreen) but don't stay out too long. When determining 'how long is too long' take these factors into consideration:

  • your skin tone
  • the heat of the day, cloud coverage etc.
  • the time of day (burn time will be longer in the evenings and early mornings)
  • location (In New Zealand the burn time is announced as part of the weather report and is usually under 10 minutes)

Make the most of hats (to protect the delicate skin around your eyes), shady trees or a shirt to enjoy the outdoors without putting yourself at risk. Maybe we can even bring back the parasol.

avoid wrinkles (& the big C) with this gear

Our Sunbeam and Sun Blocker tops have a UPF rating of 45- 50 (the top rating possible). This means that they block upwards of 97.5 of UVA & UVB rays.

read more related posts:


Great article! Thanks for posting.

Comment by Alyson — June 9, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

Thanks so much for the article, very informative. Do you have sources/studies that you can show to back it up? Helps give validity to what you wrote. Thanks!

Comment by Brenda — June 10, 2011 @ 10:16 am

Hi Brenda,

much of this is common knowledge to New Zealanders, who have a heightened awareness of sun exposure because of the hole in the ozone layer.

If you want more in-depth reading, I suggest you check out EWG’s analysis of sunscreens:


Comment by Facebook User — June 10, 2011 @ 10:28 am

I’m with Brenda. A friend posted this article on Facebook, I clicked over and read it, and the information is interesting, but I’m not going to start treating this as knowledge unless you can site creditable sources. Bad science abounds in the blogosphere. Don’t be that guy!

Comment by Blake — June 10, 2011 @ 10:45 am

“…burn time is announced as part of the weather report…”. HOT, HOT, HOT!! I love my sunscreen – great link adding EWG.

Comment by erin @ well in l.a. — June 10, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

In my humble opinion, creating and sustaining a customer service orientation and culture is something that Luluelemon requires additional training and assistance with. I can understand that return policies are both relevant and important but there also requires to be some leeway to understand an individual circumstance. My experience today at Lululemon was extremely poor as it relates in nurturing a personal bond with the customer! As a working mom facing relentless tasks and responsibilities of the sandwich generation due to aging parents with multiple health care appointments, I lost site of an outfit which I received as a Birthday gift from my husband valued over $150+ (yoga pants valued at $92 + taxes and Raceback tank top valued at $42 + taxes). I must admit with my busy life and aging eyes, I didn’t read the gift receipt of size 7 font but had felt assured from many of my yoga pals that Lululemon had no time limit on returns and that many times they had returned worn, used yoga pants due to quality issues. Hence, today after my daughter’s track meet, I ran up to the store thinking I could do a straight exchange on unworn, unused, completed tagged brand new items. Yet, that was not the case and was informed that they have a strict return policy of 14 days. I have a quality concern as well as my pants and top were too small and I can’t even exchange them for a larger size due to their “14 day policy return.” There is no satisfaction, loyalty or benefit; so why would I ever return to this store. Ironically, as I left the store at Massonville Mall in London ON, I bumped into the Manager of Talbots and informed her and showed her the tags/Gift receipt that stated “Gift for You” – What a joke!. Bottom line she informed – even with return policies, you need to satisfy the customer as this supports a “customer of service culture.” This is the true meaning of customer service so obviously the definition I use for customer service is not the same as your company so I won’t ever, nor will my daughters (and perhaps my colleages) shop at Lululemon!

Comment by Unsatistied customer — June 10, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

Hi Unsatisfied,
Thank you for taking the time to contact us. I’m sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with the service you received from us, and I will be emailing you shortly to discuss this further.
~ Laura, GEC Online Community

Comment by lululemon athletica GEC — June 10, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

And thank you for your completely unrelated rant. I felt like I was reading a chapter of The Old Man and the Sea there.

I just wanted to add something about sunscreen – it is also important to consider the use of physical sunscreens. They are made of zinc or titanium dioxide and they are considered to be the safest and most effective type of sunscreen available – regardless of UPF/SPF rating.

There is also some concern that chemical sunscreens (ie: avobenzone and the like) break down immediately upon exposure to sunlight, and may even be a causative factor in the development of skin cancer. 2cents.

Comment by Noa — June 10, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

LOL what’s up with the rant above? I don’t expect companies to bend over backwards with “unlimited return policies”, even Costco got rid of that ages ago. I DID have no trouble returning a used jacket once, which many people had issues with, so this was a quality issue, not an issue of me taking my sweet time to return an item…. Tell me how is a company supposed to resell something made for Spring 2010 when you stroll into the store in Winter 2011? Common sense… just like wearing a hat in the sun. (Here I am bringing myself back to topic.) Best sun protection I got while at Disney was a cheap straw hat that kept me cool, and a pair of sunglasses. (Plus, there’s quite a lot of shade there.)

Comment by stardx — June 17, 2011 @ 8:03 am

Brenda, I think the new FDA sunscreen regulations do a pretty good job of validating this information. Google them!

Comment by Naadia — June 17, 2011 @ 10:17 am

I’m glad you posted this. I have seen a lot lately about how sunscreen may be harming us more than helping us. It is difficult b/c I know the chemicals in sunscreen going directly in to our pores is terrible and the fact that it blocks the making of Vitamin D. Problem is that I like to be out and don’t want to get burned. What to do if you are swimming for hours. It is all very confusing, but I’m happy to learn some more from this post.

Comment by Suzanne Williams — June 21, 2011 @ 7:35 am

I cannot thank you enough for the article.Much thanks again. Great.

Comment by Bethany Wiles — April 16, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

We down under have been recommending “rashes” lightweight poly clothing for all the family when swimming for long periods, snorkeling etc. even scuba divers in warm water use them. Very similar to the outfit that our Catherine Freeman wore when running!

Comment by David — July 18, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

Lululemon, I am not impressed. Between a quote on a recently purchased bag and this article my opinion of Lululemon as a healthy lifestyle company has really changed. Your article is opinion based and spreads misconceptions to straight out lies. Please provide sources. If anything it seems you are appealing to the lowest denominator by reassuring tanners what they are doing is healthy or capitalizing on the rumour that sunscreen causes cancer by offering your products as an alternative. Healthy lifestyle brand? More like a corporation developing a false image and twisting the truth to sell more product. How original. As someone who has personally had pre-cancer at a young age from the sun this article is highly offensive. I’m disgusted. To set a few things straight, once you have a sunburn the damage is already done. The burn has mutated cells and you better hope they don’t reproduce. What an ineffective smoke alarm. Further there are sources of food or supplements that supply vitamin D. I could write a whole article here, but readers, please educate yourselves from reputable sources.

Comment by Nat — September 8, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

I question whether you have actually looked at a bottle of sunscreen since any of the major brands do block UV A rays. This article is completely disgusting to me. At the age of 29 I was diagnosed with late stage 3 melanoma and it is extremely irresponsible to encourage people to do exactly the opposite of what you should be doing to prevent skin cancer. If you are worried about vitamin D, get a supplement, especially considering in Canada at many times the sun isn’t actually strong enough to get sufficient vitamin D. Hmmm flirt with skin cancer, or take 1 extra vitamin in the morning. I think I will be following the advice of DERMATOLOGISTS who have attended years of school rather than a random article providing NO sources and I would encourage others to do the same.

Comment by Julie — January 30, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

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