5 sunscreen myths
1. Moisturizer with SPF will save your face
You'd think that a lotion promising broad-spectrum protection would help filter out UVA rays, the ones that cause aging and cancer without burning your skin. But a recent analysis of 29 top-selling moisturizers revealed that six of them — including the most expensive, at $64 an ounce — had no UVA filters at all. Six were OK, and the others contained some filters, but not in doses or combinations that work adequately, says lead researcher Steven Q. Wang, M.D., of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, NJ. Until the FDA requires UVA ratings, look for these active ingredients: zinc oxide (ideally, more than 5 percent) or a combination of avobenzone (more than 2 percent is best) and octocrylene (ideally, more than 3.6 percent), or for a product with ecamsule.
2. It's worth buying the highest possible SPF
No sunscreen blocks 100 percent of sunburn-causing UVB rays; SPF 30 cuts out 97 percent, while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. Most women don't need more than 30, but if you're highly sun-sensitive or tend to apply lotion skimpily, you might go higher.
3. Sunscreen may increase your risk of melanoma
A worry has been that by making it more comfortable to stay out in the sun, using sunscreen could up your chances of this most serious form of skin cancer. Studies have been divided, but now rigorous research in Australia tips the scale in favor of sunscreen. For five years, 1,621 residents of a township took part in a trial wherein 812 participants were instructed to use a broad-spectrum SPF 16 sunscreen daily, while the other 809 continued their usual habits — which for about 75 percent meant using sunscreen once or twice a week or not at all. Ten years after the study ended, those told to apply sunscreen daily had developed only half as many melanomas — and the growths were thinner and less likely to be invasive.
4. If you spent a lot of time in the sun as a child, the damage is already done
In the Australian study, participants were 25 to 75 years old when they began daily sunscreen use, and it still had a big impact. "This tells us it's never too late to start routine sun-protection measures," says lead author Adèle Green, Ph.D., M.D., of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane.
5. Many women are allergic to sunscreen
When Tatyana Shaw, M.D., of Oregon Health & Science University, tested 11 people who were "absolutely convinced" they were allergic, only three had positive patch tests, and two of those might have been simple irritations. If your skin stings immediately after applying sunscreen, that's a sign of irritation; allergies show up in a day or so. But whatever's causing your reaction, your first step is the same: Try a brand containing different ingredients.
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