One thing that can leave you seriously burned — aside from not wearing sunscreen daily — is believing everything you hear, especially when it comes to your health. The fact is, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And it only takes five sunburns over the course of a lifetime to double the risk of melanoma. It’s time to put the misconceptions to bed, once and for all. Our doctors weigh in on these risky behaviors, so you can drop them like the bad habits they are and keep your skin safe.
Myth no. 1: Sunscreen pills will protect you
Dietary supplements promising incredible benefits have always been a little murky due to lax FDA regulations. Recently though, store shelves are seeing a new product: supplements promising safe and effective protection against dangerous UVA/UVB rays. They claim that with one daily pill, you will protect your skin from sun damage, prevent unnecessary skin aging and wrinkles, and support the health of your skin and eyes.
But not so fast, says the US Food and Drug Administration, which sent warning letters to the manufacturers this past May. These antioxidant-packed supplements, according to an FDA news release, are “putting people’s health at risk by giving consumers a false sense of security.”
The bottom line: sunscreen with SPF 15 (or higher) is the number one best defense against harmful UVA/UVB rays. No pill can replace it.
Myth no. 2: You’re covered because you have SPF in your makeup
Many beauty brands are jumping on the wellness wagon by integrating low grade SPFs into their formulations, and then marketing powder and liquid foundations as corrective and protective.
“People think that since their makeup contains sunscreen that they are protected. This is not the case,” says Los Angeles-based plastic surgeon Dr. Jason Emer. “The amount of foundation applied isn’t equal to the amount of SPF that you’d apply. I always recommend a sunscreen to be applied before foundation and a mineral SPF to touch up with during the day, if needed.”
Myth no. 3: You never burn so you’re ok
There are two types of sun rays: UVA and UVB. The UVB rays affect the skin’s surface, causing sunburns. UVA rays go deeper and cause skin cancer and signs of aging. When your cells are exposed to any type of UV light, they produce more melanin, the pigment that colors your skin and turns darker as you tan.
If you burn, you’re likely getting both UVA and UVB rays. When you tan, and not burn, that means you are getting more UVA rays than UVB rays. So the risk of skin cancer and damage is still there.
This goes for tanning salons too. “While you are less likely to burn in a tanning bed, you’re still exposed to harmful UVA rays,” says Dr. Elan B. Singer. “These get you tan, but also increase your risk of early aging and the development of skin cancers.”
Myth no. 4: Higher SPFs mean extra protection
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, we all should be wearing a sunscreen with 15 SPF daily, regardless of our schedules or plans. For beach days or outdoor activities, boost that SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, to 30.
Many sunscreen labels go way beyond the SPF 30, with some lotions going as high as SPF 100. And while higher SPFs may imply an additional layer of defense, the formulations between the SPFs aren’t dramatically different.
“There’s no need to go above 50,” says Paradise Valley-based dermatologist Dr. Susan Van Dyke. “A 50 SPF blocks 98 percent of the UVB light, while SPF 100 will block 99 percent. The level of benefit to either is contingent on applying enough and reapplying frequently.”
Myth no. 5: Waterproof sunscreen doesn’t rinse off
A commonly held belief with waterproof sunscreen is that you can sweat or splash around to your heart’s content without worry or consequence. But the truth is, there’s no such thing as truly waterproof sunscreen — just water resistant, according to Dr. Jordan Cain.
Assuming all outdoor activities are even, the waterproof sunscreen will simply last a little bit longer than the regular one before you need to reapply.
Paradise Valley-based dermatologist Dr. Susan Van Dyke explains that “the active ingredients in sunscreen break down when exposed to UV light.” And as such, “you need to keep reapplying as the ingredients lose effectiveness: every two hours; more often if you sweat or swim,” she says.
Spent A Little Too Much Time in the Sun?
If you let your fun in the sun get the best of you this summer, there are a few routes you can take to reverse the visible damage caused by excessive sun exposure.
Intense pulse light laser, commonly referred to as IPL, works quickly — with visible results within days of the first treatment — to remove sunspots, freckles and irregular pigmentation, via light energy that penetrates below the skin’s surface to break down the melanin foundation.
Fraxel is another laser option that works best to combat stubborn, darker sunspots, by promoting new collagen formation and skin rejuvenation, with a one to three day recovery time.
“Fraxel improves sun damaged skin, as well as tone and texture,” advises Bay Area plastic surgeon Dr. Barbara Parsons. “It is best to visit your doctor for a consultation to decide which treatment would work best with your skin and achieve your desired results.”