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Shedding Light on 7 Sunscreen Myths

Dermatologists debunk common misunderstandings about sunscreen.

Sunscreen Myth #1: I can skip it. continued...

Spencer agrees. "People with sensitive skin tend to do better with the physical blocks," he says.

Stein notes that sunscreens labeled for babies or children are often the same as the "sensitive skin" versions of those products, just repackaged for a different age group. Stein also has other tips for people with sensitive skin:

  • Do a test spot. "If you're concerned about a new sunscreen, you can first try it on the inside of your arm before you use it on your face or put it all over your body," she says.
  • Wear protective clothing. "Clothing and a hat are even better than sunscreen," Stein says. "The more covered up you are, the less sunscreen you need."

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. 

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