Debunking the Common Sunscreen Myths

Hello Doctor,
Are sunscreen with zinc and titanium good at protection from all kinds of UVA’s and UVB? I read that a UVA circled in a sunscreen means that we get a UVA protection of a third of the SPF. So how much should a UVA be for maximum protection? Should we look for an SPF of 100 to get a UVA of 33? But I also read that an SPF of 50+ is bad because the ingredients in it can be harmful and also this will make people believe they can stay longer in the sun. Could you please advice? Thank you.

I really sympathize with how hard it is for consumers to sort it all out with the glut of often contradictory information on the web about many things…including sunscreens.

Myth #1  More or higher SPF is better.

It’s not better because the SPF only refers to UVB coverage, and doesn’t include UVA or visible light. And also because at about an SPF of 30 you are blocking about 95% of the UVB, so that extra high number only buys you a tiny extra bit of UVB coverage and a lot more chemicals on your skin. Just remember to reapply frequently.

Myth #2  UVA doesn’t matter that much because you can’t get burned.

Not true. The UVA wavelength is longer and penetrates into the dermis further which does more damage to your collagen and elastic fibers. Have you ever looked at the skin of someone who once spent a lot of time in those supposedly safe UVA tanning beds? It looks like wrinkled leather 10 years later and it’s tough to repair. Also, you can get a UVA burn. The high SPF, if it doesn’t cover UVA too, allows you to stay out longer thinking you’re safe, and then you get a UVA burn.

Myth #3  As long as you don’t burn, you can’t damage your skin.

Okay…I know none of us want to live in a cave, so moderation is the key. But…tanning is a skin defense mechanism again the sun’s rays. If you’re tanning at all, to some extent you are damaging your skin because you are activating the skin’s defense mechanism. That defense mechanism is to increase melanin (the tan). So whenever you tan, you are doing some damage. A balance is key here.

Myth #4   You can trust what the front of your sunscreen bottle says.

Really the only way to know what you’re getting in a sunscreen is to look at the back at the active ingredients. The more zinc oxide and titanium (the mineral sunscreens) along with at least an SPF of 30, the better the sunscreen is at blocking UVA and UVB. The one exception is iron oxides in tinted sunscreens which it turns out help block the rays that create blotchy, uneven pigment. Iron oxides are listed in the inactive ingredients.

I hope this helps and happy summer!  🙂

Dr. Brandith Irwin

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