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Shedding Light on 7 Sunscreen Myths

Dermatologists debunk common misunderstandings about sunscreen.

Sunscreen Myth #2: The SPF in my makeup is enough.

Some women may rely on sunscreen in their makeup. But you might need more than that.

"If you use foundation, a few spots of sunscreen on your face isn't going to be enough out in the sun," Stein says. "You should wear at least an SPF of 30. The easiest approach is to use a facial moisturizer that already has sunscreen in it."

It's fine to have sunscreen in your makeup, but consider it an extra layer, not your main safeguard. 

Sunscreen Myth #3: All sunscreens are the same.

Not so. Sunscreens can differ in the way they protect your skin. Some use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to filter out UVA and UVB rays. Others use chemicals such as avobenzone to do the job.

Newer active ingredients include Helioplex and Meroxyl SX.

"Dermatologists like Helioplex and meroxyl because these ingredients are photostabilized, which means they give you good UVA and UVB protection," Stein says. "And they're more stable so they won't break down as quickly."

What offers the best protection? That's a matter of debate.

The Environmental Working Group has reported that some sunscreen products don’t adequately protect the skin, but the Personal Care Products Council, an industry group, has disputed that. Consumer Reports also reviews and rates sunscreens.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you should look for a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher that provides broad-spectrum coverage against both UVA and UVB light.

The FDA recommends using a sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or higher that says "broad spectrum" on the label. 

Sunscreen Myth #4: A little sunscreen will see me through the day.

"The general principle is to reapply every two to four hours," Spencer says. "Sunscreen does go away with time."

Don't be stingy when you're putting it on yourself or your children. "To cover your whole body, you would have to fill a shot glass," Stein says. "A good way to conserve sunscreen is to cover up with clothing. Clothes are more reliable than sunscreen -- you don't have to worry about forgetting about it or reapplying it."

If you get into the water, you may need to reapply more often.

The FDA doesn't allow sunscreen makers to claim that their products are "waterproof" or "sweatproof," or identify their products as "sunblocks" because, the FDA says, those claims overstate their effectiveness. Sunscreens can claim that they are "water resistant," but they have to specify how long that lasts.

You may also want to check on whether your prescriptions make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Certain blood pressuremedications can make your skin more sensitive to the sun and so can some antibiotics, such as doxycycline, which is an oral antibiotic used to treat acne. Be sure to talk to your doctor about this," Stein says.

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