The suit got us thinking: Are we really clear on what sunscreens can and can’t do? Maybe not. So we took some of the biggest claims and ran them by experts. You might want to take what they sayalong with the sunscreens they useto the beach with you this summer.
Myth 1: Sunscreen is all you need to stay safe.
“Sunscreen is only one part of the sun-protection picture,” explains Francesca Fusco, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York. “Just slathering it on and doing nothing else isn’t going to cut it because, even with sunscreen, there’s still up to a 50 percent risk that you’ll burn.” You also need to seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when sunlight is strongest; cover up with clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses; do regular skin self-exams; and get a professional skin evaluation annually.
Myth 2: SPF measures levels of protection against both UVB and UVA rays.
The SPF (sun protection factor) measures only the level of protection against UVB rays. But several of the 16 active ingredients approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in sunscreens also block or absorb UVA rays, says Warwick L. Morison, MD, professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins Medical School and chairman of the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Photobiology Committee. Ingredients include: avobenzone (Parsol 1789), octocrylene, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, as well as the recently approved Mexoryl SX. Make sure one of these is in your sunscreen, or look for products labeled “broad spectrum,” which means they protect against UVB and UVA rays.