What You Don't Know About Sunscreen Could Hurt You

By: CBS News
By: CBS News
When it comes to sunscreen, many consumers end up confused and overwhelmed when they survey all the options at their local drug store. A new report highlights some of the best options and corrects some common misconceptions about sunscreen.

Image from ISTOCKPHOTO

May 20, 2014

CBS News - Summer is just around the corner, and that means afternoons at the beach, midday picnics and epic bike rides. But all that time in the sun can do serious damage to your skin.

When it comes to sunscreen, many consumers end up confused and overwhelmed when they survey all the options at their local drug store. A new report highlights some of the best options and corrects some common misconceptions about sunscreen.

Consumer Reports put 20 popular sunscreens to the test, and also conducted a survey of 1,000 adults in the U.S. to see if they know the ABCs of SPF -- which stands for Sunburn Protection Factor, the level of protection offered against UVB rays. UVB radiation causes sunburn, while UVA rays penetrate deeper and contribute to skin aging and wrinkling. Both have been tied to skin cancer risk.

The survey uncovered a number of common myths and misunderstandings about sunscreen.

About half of those who bought kids' sunscreens said they thought it was "safer" and "gentler" than other formulas. But Consumer Reports say the FDA doesn't make a distinction between kids' and adults' sunscreens, which generally contain the same active ingredients.

The survey also found that 29 percent of people using sunscreen waited until they were in the sun to slather it on. But in order to get full protection, sunscreen needs to be applied 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure, and then should be reapplied every two hours.

Experts say it takes about one ounce of sunscreen, or about two tablespoonfuls, to cover your face and body. Most people only use half that much, so they don't get full protection.

After testing 20 widely available sunscreens currently on the market, Consumer Reports said it would only recommend seven of the products. And it found just two of them -- BullFrog WaterArmor Sport InstaCool SPF 50+ and Coppertone Sensitive Skin SPF 50 -- actually provided the level of SPF protection promised on their labels after being immersed in water.

However, the report points out that doesn't necessarily mean other sunscreens won't do the job. "Even an SPF 30 sunscreen that comes in, say, 40 percent below its claim gives you an SPF of 18," the report explains. It also notes that twice the SPF does not equal twice the protection. Even a relatively low SPF 15 is enough to shield your skin from 93 percent of UVB rays, the report says, while SPF 30 guards against 97 percent.


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