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Save Your Skin! 7 Sunscreen Myths Debunked

Save Your Skin! 7 Sunscreen Myths Debunked
Barb Szyszkiewicz

You ate right and worked out all spring long so you could fit into your itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka-dot bikini.  But that bikini doesn’t cover up very much skin, leaving you vulnerable to sunburn and skin damage.  The benefits of protecting your skin include a lower risk of sunburn, reduced risk of skin cancer, and better-looking skin.  Even if you don’t get sunburned, the sun ages your skin—and that damage isn’t limited to freckles and wrinkles.

Do you know the best way to choose among all the sunscreen options out there?  In an effort to make it easier to find the best sunscreen for yourself or your children, the FDA has set up some new labeling guidelines for sun-protection products.  Next summer, sunscreen manufacturers will be required to use the FDA’s new labeling guidelines.  But how will you know what to choose to get your family through this summer's fun in the sun?

Before you hit the beach, make it a point to learn how to choose the best sunscreen for you and your family.  Here are 7 myths about sun protection and some ways to work around those myths.

  • Myth Number 1: Stratospheric SPF (Sun Protection Factor).  While a higher number offers better protection against sun damage, it has not been proven that an SPF higher than 50 is any more effective.  Don't pay a premium for a high SPF that's nothing but a pricey fallacy.  But do look for sunscreen with an SFP of at least 15, and plan to go as high as 30 to 50 if you have very fair skin or plan on being outside for long periods of time. 

  • Myth Number 2: All UV rays are created equal.  While only UVB rays cause sunburn, both UVA and UVB rays can lead to skin damage and skin cancer.  You don’t have to wait until next summer to find Broad Spectrum sunscreens that protect against both.  The UVB rays that cause sunburn are generally strongest between 10 AM and 2 PM (the time formerly known as Peak Tanning Hours), but UVA rays remain constant throughout the day.  UVA rays, a major contributor to skin damage, are not filtered by glass—so if you’re in the house or in the car, you’re still at risk.

  • Myth Number 3: Sunscreen is waterproof.  The term “waterproof” will no longer be on labels as of next summer, because all sunscreen will wash off eventually.  The FDA does permit sunscreen to be labeled “water-resistant” or “sweat-resistant,” but such labels must detail how long such protection will last—a maximum of 80 minutes.  Some “water-resistant” sunscreen will only last 40 minutes.

  • Myth Number 4: Apply sunscreen right before you hit the beach or dive into the pool. Sun-protection products need time to be absorbed by the skin.  When possible, apply sunscreen at least 15 to 30 minutes before exposure to the sun.  If you rub on sunscreen and go right outside, your skin will not be completely protected and you’ll run the risk of sunburn or skin damage.  Don’t wait until the sun is at its strongest to put on your sunscreen.  Begin protecting your skin first thing in the morning for maximum benefits.

  • Myth Number 5: Apply sunscreen once a day; it lasts all day long No sunscreen lasts all day.  The protection will wear off even faster if you swim (and then towel off) or sweat.  Plan to reapply your sun protection every two hours, and more-frequent application is better if you’re swimming.

  • Myth Number 6: A little goes a long way. While more may not be better in terms of SPF over 50, more is definitely better when it comes to application. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you use about 1 ounce of sunscreen each time you apply.  That’s about a golf-ball-size amount.  If you’re planning a five-day beach vacation with three hours of beach time per day, you’ll need at least 10 ounces of sunscreen per person for that trip.  And don’t wait until you get to the beach to buy your sunscreen—you’ll pay much less for sun protection when you’re closer to home.  (Check for coupons on our Summer Deals page if you're buying sunscreen and swimwear online!)

  • Myth Number 7: It’s called “sunblock” for a reason.  Actually, there is no sunscreen that blocks all UV rays, so the FDA's new rules do not allow the word “sunblock” on labels; next summer, you won't see that term used anymore.  A sunscreen with a 30 SPF protects against approximately 97% of UV rays.

Sun-protective clothing, when combined with proper sunscreen use, can also protect against the sun’s damaging rays.  Those rashguard shirts made so popular by surfers are great for keeping the sand from scratching your skin as you swim or surf, but they can also help keep the sun off your skin.  No need to go to surf-specialty shops on the boardwalk:  you can find these at a great price at Lands End and Old Navy. Wide-brimmed hats can also keep the sun off your face (and your scalp. Do you remember to put sunscreen in your part?)  And grabbing a seat in the shade of a tree or beach umbrella will help as well. So if you’re on the beach, on a boat, or even just hanging around in your own backyard, wearing sunscreen and covering up is the best way to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays.

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  1. Amelia

    I think too much sunblock is harmful - the sun is good for us (as long as we don't get burnt)!

  2. Neil

    I have fairly pale skin and when ever I'm out for a few hours I get sunburned. I'm always looking at the highest SPF but I guess I've been wasting money. =[

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