Learn The Truth About Sunscreen

by Lt. Col. (Dr.) Wendi Wohltmann
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center dermatologist

MYTH: “I only need to wear sunscreen when it’s sunny.”

FACT: In fact, it’s important to wear sunscreen every day, even when it’s cloudy. Sunburn is primarily caused by ultraviolet B (UVB). However, both UVB and ultraviolet A (UVA), which enhances the harmful effects of UVB, can cause sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging (sun or liver spots and wrinkles). Clouds block UVB, not UVA. Have you ever gotten sunburned on an overcast or cloudy day?  That was due to UVA rays, which make up about 95 percent of those that reach Earth and penetrate your skin more deeply than UVB.

MYTH: “I only need to wear sunscreen when I am outside.”

FACT: Windows in automobiles and buildings block UVB, but not UVA. In the U.S., there is a window tint available for cars and homes that blocks 99.9 percent of all UV exposure. For drivers in Germany, however, tinting windows must conform to German and U.S. Army in Europe regulations stating that, except for original factory tinting, tinting is not allowed to be applied directly to the windshield or front side windows on the driver and passenger side.

MYTH: “Kids don’t need to wear sunscreen.”

FACT: A few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life, so it’s important to protect your kids and teach them good sun protection habits at a young age. Children over the age of 6 months should wear sunscreen daily. Infants 0 to 6 months should avoid sun exposure at all times.

MYTH: “All sunscreen stings my eyes or burns my skin.”

FACT: People with sensitive skin or eyes should use sunscreen with physical blockers (Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide) instead of chemical blockers (Avobenzone, Octinozate and Octisalate). Simply check the sunscreen bottle for the list of active ingredients and choose one that has only physical blockers.

MYTH: “My clothes protect me from the sun.”

FACT: The average white T-shirt has an SPF of 4, so it’s a good idea to wear sun-protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats (baseball caps do not shade the cheeks, neck or ears). There are specially designed clothing and hats available with Uniform Protection Factor (UPF), which is like SPF for clothes. Another option is to treat your clothing with one of the wash-in sun protection products available online.

MYTH: “I only need to apply sunscreen to my face.”

FACT: Sunscreen needs to be applied to all UV-exposed areas, including face, ears, neck and hands if wearing a long-sleeved shirt and pants. And don’t forget to protect your lips with SPF 30 lip balm. We see a lot of skin cancer on the back of the neck in golfers.

MYTH: “I need sun exposure to get Vitamin D.”

FACT: According to the American Academy of Dermatology Position Statement on Vitamin D, “Vitamin D should not be obtained from unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation,” but instead from foods and beverages naturally rich in or fortified with Vitamin D and/or Vitamin D supplements.

MYTH: “I apply it in the morning and I am good to go all day.”

FACT: Sunscreen should be applied every morning and then 30 minutes before going outside for prolonged sun exposure. Reapply at least every two hours, more often with sweating or swimming. One of my patients kept forgetting to reapply during his golf game and would end up getting burned, so he came up with the saying, “After nine, reapply!”

MYTH: “Sunscreen isn’t safe.”

FACT: Per the FDA website: “The FDA believes the risk of not using sunscreen is much greater than any potential risk posed by sunscreen ingredients.”

To learn how to protect yourself against summertime threats, check out this story!

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