Buying sunscreen can feel overwhelming — there are so many options, it's often hard to discern which product is the best buy. Consider the crisis averted: TODAY spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Cybele Fishman and Dr. Cameron Rokhsar, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, to find out how to keep skin safe all summer long.
Here are few SPF myths not to buy into, and some facts you may not have realized were true.
1. Any SPF over 30 is an exaggeration.
Fact. A recent investigation by Consumer Reports found that out of 60 suntan lotions tested, 28 didn't meet their SPF claims.
“My impression is that it’s a numbers game that companies play — and people are under the misconception that if you buy a lotion that advertises 100 SPF, it’s three times better than a 30 SPF. That’s just not true,” Rokhsar said. “I tell patients to buy a SPF 30 with broad-spectrum coverage.”
“I personally think a product containing zinc that is SPF 50 is a whole lot better than a SPF 85 that has no zinc,” said Fishman.
2. There are certain SPFs that you need to apply only once a day.
Myth. Rokhsar was quick to dismiss this myth as “hyped up marketing,” with absolutely no element of truth. He advises patients to apply sunscreen every two to three hours, no matter what brand or type they are using.
3. Drinkable SPFs are just as effective as sunscreen.
Myth. Products like Osmosis Harmonized H20 UV Neturalizer (that allow you to drink your SPF protection) have been making headlines, but dermatologists like Rokhsar remain skeptical.
“I can’t believe there is scientific support for that,” he said.
4. SPF clothing is better than wearing a cotton T-shirt.
Fact. “SPF clothing is 100-percent effective. The sun shouldn’t penetrate through to your skin at all,” said Rokhsar.
5. You can get burnt through a window.
Fact. “Though you can’t get as badly burnt as you would in the direct sunlight, you can still get some level of UVA rays and should still wear sunscreen if you’ll be in the car on a sunny day,” said Rokhsar.
“Car windows only filter (out) UVB rays,” Fishman stressed. “You can burn from the UVA rays, and those rays are associated with melanoma.”
6. If there’s hair on your head, you don’t need to protect your scalp.
Myth. “The scalp is the most common place for skin cancer in men. When men have a receding hairline, they don’t think about applying sunscreen to their head, but they need to,” explained Rokhsar.
Men and women alike should always protect their heads by either wearing a hat or applying sunscreen. People with thinning hair need to be particularly careful about exposed areas of their scalp.
7. Waterproof sunscreen doesn’t need to be reapplied after you’re in the water.
Myth. “It is illegal to call a sunscreen waterproof under the new FDA regulations because it implies that no matter how long you're in the water, you’re protected, which isn’t true,” Fishman said. “The new labeling states something is water-resistant and will list the time in the water you’ll be protected for (usually 40 or 80 minutes).”
“Waterproof sunscreens are better if you’re planning on going in the water because they’re oil based,” Rokhsar said. “But you should always reapply.”
8. If you wear sunscreen and reapply regularly, you can stay in the sun all day.
Myth. “If you want to protect yourself from the sun, you need to reduce your time in the sun,” Fishman said. “If you burn in five minutes without sunscreen, even with a good sunscreen with a high SPF (and reapplication), if you spend eight hours in the sun, you will burn.”
9. If you're not burnt, your skin is OK.
Myth. If your skin changes color at all, you're experiencing sun damage. Sure, a burn is worse for your skin, but both doctors agree that chronic sun damage (through a tan), can also have lasting results.
10. I have a darker complexion so my skin is more protected.
Fact. "Yes, people with darker skin tones have SPF built into their skin and are better protected, but it's still necessary to protect your skin from the sun," Rokhsar explained.
11. Natural sunscreens are better for your skin.
"Natural sunscreens is a marketing term, so buyer beware. Look for sunscreens that list zinc or titanium on the ingredients," said Fishman.