Separating Sunscreen Facts From Fiction.

Separating Sunscreen Facts From Fiction.

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 06/24/14 •  5 min read

When I was a kid growing up, I used to slather on baby oil and sit on the beach and roast. The idea, of course, was to achieve the “perfect tan.” But what I usually ended up with was the perfect burn, instead.

Yeah, I was a moron.

Now, of course, we know better. Sun exposure can cause all sorts of damage to your skin, not to mention contribute to skin cancer. And yes, it can cause premature wrinkles, and who wants that?

So when I saw this on CNN about common sunscreen “myths,” I knew I had to post it here.

Myth No. 1: Sunscreen is all you need to stay safe.

Reality: “Sunscreen is only one part of the sun-protection picture,” explains Francesca Fusco, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “Just slathering it on and doing nothing else isn’t going to cut it because, even with sunscreen, there’s still up to a 50 percent risk that you’ll burn.”

You also need to seek shade between 10 AM and 4 PM, when sunlight is strongest; cover up with clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses; do regular skin self-exams; and get a professional skin evaluation annually.

Myth No. 2: SPF measures levels of protection against both UVB and UVA rays.

Reality: The SPF (sun protection factor) measures only the level of protection against UVB rays. But several of the 16 active ingredients approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in sunscreens also block or absorb UVA rays, says Warwick L. Morison, MD, professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins Medical School and chairman of the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Photobiology Committee.

Ingredients include: avobenzone (Parsol 1789), octocrylene, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, as well as the recently approved Mexoryl SX. Make sure one of these is in your sunscreen, or look for products labeled “broad spectrum,” which means they protect against UVB and UVA rays.

Myth No. 3: Some sunscreens can protect all day.

Reality: “Regardless of the SPF or what the label says, sunscreens must be reapplied every two hours,” Fusco says. “The active ingredients in most products begin to break down when exposed to the sun.” Only physical blockers such as zinc oxide stay potent after two hours, but not all sunscreens are made with these ingredients.

Myth No. 4: Some sunscreens are waterproof.

Reality: The FDA does not recognize the term “waterproof,” so don’t count on sunscreen to last through hours of swimming. The agency does recognize “water/sweat/perspiration resistant” (which means a product offers SPF protection after 40 minutes of exposure to water) and “very water/sweat/perspiration resistant” (which means it still protects after 80 minutes). To be safe, reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating.

Myth No. 5: A sunscreen can provide “total sunblock.”

Reality: “No sunscreen blocks 100 percent of UV rays,” Fusco says. An SPF 15 protects against 93 percent of UV rays, SPF 30 protects against 97 percent, and SPF 50 wards off 98 percent. You should slather two tablespoons on your body a half-hour before going outside, so the sunscreen has time to absorb into your skin.

All this is well and good. But there are an awful lot of sunscreens out there. Which one should you use?

Consumer Reports recently tested sunscreens from both large and small manufacturers. All had to have an SPF claim of at least 30, be broad spectrum (protect against both UVA and UVB rays), and be water-resistant. They considered cost, too.

Here are 7 they recommend:

And here are 13 they don’t:

Consumer Reports recommends applying all sunscreens at least 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside. And they say to use spray sunscreens carefully. The FDA is exploring the risks of inhaling spray sunscreens, but until the results are known, they recommend not using them on children, and not spraying them directly on your face. Instead, spray them on your hands then apply. Sprays are flammable, so let them dry before going near an open flame.

Whew. And you thought sunscreen was easy. But the bottom line is this: no sunscreen will work if you don’t use it. So apply frequently, be careful of the sun, and be safe out there.

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