Don’t let sunscreen myths burn you this summer

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If you miss a spot when applying sunscreen, you could end up with a sunburn. Leave a gap in your knowledge about sunscreen labels, and you can face more serious consequences.

The right sunscreen is crucial in the battle against skin cancer, aging, and burning. Sunscreen labels can guide you to the best product.

A study conducted by dermatologists showed that 50% of participants didn’t know how to read sunscreen labels. More than half of those surveyed believed three common myths about sunscreen—now, learn the truth.

MYTH: DOUBLE THE SPF MEANS DOUBLE THE PROTECTION.

TRUTH: SPF measures how much longer it takes for UVB 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 burn than if you use nothing at all. SPF 15 sunscreen—the lowest number allowed by the FDA—blocks 93% of UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using SPF 30, which blocks 97%, and SPF 50, which blocks 98%.

No matter which SPF you choose, reapply 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. Always reapply after you get out of the pool or finish a workout.

Note: No sunscreen can screen out all UVB rays.

MYTH: THE NUMBER ON THE LABEL TELLS YOU HOW WELL A SUNSCREEN PROTECTS AGAINST SKIN AGING.

TRUTH: SPF helps protect against burning UVB rays, but it’s UVA rays that cause wrinkles, age spots, and other signs of age. Make sure you 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. Most people use only one-fourth to one-half this amount.

If you have questions about protecting your skin, consult with your doctor or dermatologist. You can find more about sun protection in our online Health Center; visit the page and search on “SPF.”

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