Don’t Get Burned by These Sunscreen Myths - Virtua Health, NJ

Don't Get Burned by These Sunscreen Myths

By Mirela Draganescu, MD – Internal Medicine Physician
Virtua Primary Care—Westmont

Whether you spend time at the beach, in the mountains, by the pool, or in your own backyard this summer, you’ll expose your skin to the restorative, but also harmful, rays of the sun. 

While it’s important to apply sunscreen every time you go outside, even on overcast days, choosing the right one can be confusing. Sunscreens come in many formulas and types, such as creams, sprays, and sticks—it can take trial and error to find one you like.

The important thing is to avoid sunburn. Repeated sunburns are a leading cause of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Here’s how to sort fact from fiction when shopping for sunscreen that works for you.

Myth: Double the SPF means double the protection.

Truth: SPF, or sun protection factor, measures how much longer it takes for ultraviolet (UV) B rays to burn your skin when wearing sunscreen compared with when you’re unprotected. For instance, if you choose SPF 15, it will take your skin 15 times longer to turn red than if you use nothing at all.

SPF 15 sunscreen—the lowest number now allowed by the FDA—blocks 93 percent of UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using at least SPF 30, which blocks 97 percent.

No matter what SPF you choose, reapply at least every two hours. Brands labeled “water-resistant” last through 40 minutes of swimming or sweating, while “very water-resistant” means you’ll have 80 minutes of protection in these conditions. But, no sunscreen is waterproof. You should reapply after you get out of the pool or finish a workout.

Myth: The SPF number on the label tells you how well a sunscreen protects against skin aging.

Truth: SPF gauges protection against burning UVB rays. But, it’s UVA rays that cause wrinkles and age spots. Choose a product labeled “broad spectrum.” This means it filters out both UVA and UVB rays. The benefit goes beyond appearance—both types of rays contribute to skin cancer.

Myth: A thin layer of sunscreen will suffice.

Truth: Getting the amount of protection advertised on the label requires a generous coating. You should use about an ounce to cover your body—enough to fill a shot glass.

Be sun smart

Limit your time in the sun, use sunscreen, and cover as much of your skin as possible. In addition, schedule annual skin checks with your doctor to identify and address areas of concern.

To schedule an appointment, call 888-847-8823.

Updated June 17, 2020

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