As summer approaches, people are stocking up on sunscreen to protect their skin. But finding a good sunscreen can be difficult. Walk down the aisle looking to buy sunscreen and you’re bombarded with claims such as waterproof, sweat-proof, and protects against skin cancer. The problem, many of those claims are false.
For example, some sunscreen advertises themselves as being waterproof and offering all-day protection. The FDA has labeled both these claims “misleading and false.” According to David Andrews of the Environmental Working Group, there’s no such thing as waterproof sunscreen at all. No matter what the sunscreen, he told us, “at some point it will rub off and dissolve in to the water.”
Some sunscreens also offer broad spectrum protection, a term which seems to indicate that they protect against skin cancer, sunburn and aging. This isn’t always the case. Products with SPF 15 or lower may protect against sunburn, but they do not help against wrinkles and skin cancer. In addition, some sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but not UVA. Both types work together to damage the skin.
If there’s a holiday RealSelf should definitely celebrate, it’s National Sunscreen Day on May 27. Anytime someone asks our doctor community how to prevent wrinkles and other signs of aging, their #1 tip is to wear sunscreen daily.
To help you avoid the risks of too much exposure, we turned to dermatologist Dr. Susan Van Dyke and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) to bring you these 7 facts about proper sun protection:
Anything greater than SPF 50 provides the same protection
“A 50 SPF blocks 98.00% of UVB light (the burning rays) while a 100 SPF will block 99.00%,” says Dr. Van Dyke. “This level of benefit [to either] is of course contingent on applying enough and reapplying frequently.”
Makeup and moisturizers with sunscreen aren’t always enough
Unless your makeup/moisturizer provides broad spectrum sunscreen and is reapplied throughout the day, it isn’t enough protection for all day sun exposure. According to ASDS, it’s find if “you are only walking to your car from work or going into the store…But if you are going to spend a few hours outdoors, then you need to wear a broad spectrum sunscreen.”
You need to reapply every 2 hours
“The active ingredients in sunscreens break down when exposed to UV light. To maintain the SPF on the label you need to keep reapplying as the ingredients lose effectiveness: every 2 hours, more often if you sweat or swim,” says Dr. Van Dyke.
It’s not a free pass to suntan all day
“Sunscreen is not 100% even in the best of cases (applying an ounce every 2 hours and after swimming),” warns Dr. Van Dyke. “Realistically speaking few of us follow guidelines perfectly. If you really want to save your skin, the best approach is to use sunscreen, cover up (hats, sunglasses, SPF clothing) and seek shade.”
Tanning oil with SPF 10 doesn’t count
“Less than an SPF of 15 will not protect you from the cancer causing side effects of sun exposure,” says Dr. Van Dyke.
You should use one ounce to cover your whole body
According to ASDS “Research shows that many people put on about half of the amount of sunscreen they need, so be sure to lather it on. Also, don’t forget your lips – use lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher.”
Don’t wait til you’re in the sun to apply
“Sunscreen should be applied one-half hour before going outside, giving the skin time to absorb it,” says ASDS.
The next time you’re picking out sunscreen, here’s what you should look for:
- Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide
- Minimum SPF 15, ideally 30
- Broad spectrum UVA/UVB (UVB causes burns, but UVA is also damaging to the structure and health of skin)
- Water resistance if you’ll be swimming or sweating
In 2011 the FDA took action against the sunscreen makers, demanding that they update their labels to reflect these realities. Among other things, the FDA now requires a “test method to demonstrate that a sunscreen product provides ‘broad spectrum” protection, which is protection against both UVB and UVA radiation.” Sunscreen manufacturers were given until this summer to update their labels accordingly.
However, not all companies have been able to comply. The companies argued that they couldn’t meet the new regulations in time for this summer, appealing to the FDA for more time. The agency has granted them an extension until December to get their labels into compliance. The FDA defended the decision, telling ABC News, “we think that the data they have submitted does adequately support delaying compliance date,” adding, “You are already starting to see some of these new testing and labeling requirements being implemented.”
In the meantime, stores are stocked with a mixture of old and new labels, making it difficult to tell what really works.
The FDA says without the delay, there may have been a sunscreen shortage. So consumers can now count on plenty of sunscreen–but just a shade of truth.
This has changed my perception of sunscreen for myself and my daughters….will you change what you look for, too?
More on this sunscreen story here…