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Sunscreen: Are You Really Covered?

What's true, and what's not, about sunscreen and SPF.

Sunscreen: True or False continued...

So unless you plan to spackle on your foundation, smooth on a layer of lotion with sunscreen first and then apply your makeup.

5. Sunscreen can cause cancer.

FALSE. The only way sunscreen could be hazardous to your health is if it is absorbed into the body, which does not happen, says Amy Wechsler, MD, dermatologist and author of The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin. "UV rays break down the chemical molecules in some sunscreens relatively quickly, long before they can seep into skin."

Still concerned? Use a sunscreen containing physical blocking ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, which stay on the surface of the skin as a protective barrier. Don't be tempted to use babies' or children's sunscreens, which don't necessarily contain physical blocks.

Also, you should check the "active ingredients" section on the label to see what the bottle contains. Even the same product can vary from year to year.

6. "Water-resistant" sunscreen doesn't need to be reapplied after swimming.

FALSE. "No sunscreen is truly waterproof," Wechsler says. The FDA agrees. Sunscreens are allowed to call themselves "water-resistant" but not "waterproof," and their labels have to say how long the water resistance lasts.

You should reapply sunscreen every two hours, and every time you get in and out of the water or work up a sweat.

7. Wearing sunscreen can lead to vitamin D deficiency.

FALSE. No doubt about it: You need vitamin D (which your body can make when exposed to the sun).  But that doesn't give you a no-SPF pass.

"You still get enough sun to make plenty of vitamin D through the sunscreen," says Brett Coldiron, MD, a dermatologist at the University of Cincinnati.

It can be harder to make vitamin D during the winter or when you're older. But you can still get vitamin D from fortified foods or supplements. The Institute of Medicine recommends that most adults get 600 IUs of vitamin D a day. Some people may need more, so check with your health care provider.

8. Sunscreen with antioxidants provides better UVA/UVB protection.

TRUE. While they aren't active sunscreen ingredients, antioxidants are great SPF supplements. Sunscreen alone does not block all of the damaging rays from the sun -- even an SPF of 50 blocks out only 98% of UV rays. "Antioxidants are a good way to catch the UV radiation that 'sneaks' past the sunscreen," Gohara says. Sunscreens infused with antioxidants, such as skin-loving green tea extract or polyphenols from tomatoes and berries, are proven to reduce the formation of free radicals (small chemical particles that wreak havoc on skin and can cause skin cancer) in the presence of UV light.

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