Reality Check

Reality Check

Vets the truthfulness of claims and measures the efficacy of public policy

Reality Check: The Truth About Sunscreen

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In this edition of Reality Check, Sam Brock looks at common claims about skincare and separates the facts from the fiction.

    It’s the height of summer, and with school out and hot temperatures blanketing most of the country, many have been seeking refuge at community pools, lakes and beaches.

    The U.S. Surgeon General, though, has been keeping tabs on the nation's health, and on Tuesday issued a call to action urging Americans to stop tanning and save their skin. The Surgeon General didn't mince words in speaking to the public, stating in the report, "Keep your skin healthy - avoid sunbathing and indoor tanning."

    With that in mind, NBC Bay Area looked at various claims about sunbathing and sunscreen in an effort to help provide more clarity about the risks associated with being out in the sun.

    Claim No. 1: Applying any kind of sunscreen protects you from skin cancer.

    This isn't true. According to the FDA, it's important to use sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB -- the two types of UV light that harm your skin.

    And in this respect, not all sunscreen is created equal.

    The SPF of a particular brand, or ‘Sun Protection Factor,' measures the product’s ability to block out UVB rays. But it doesn’t speak at all to whether the product can absorb the just as important UVA rays.

    According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, it’s the UVA rays that penetrate the skin more deeply and are associated with wrinkling, leathering, and sagging of the skin, as well as “increasingly being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own."

    So bottom line?

    You need to purchase sunscreen that says, 'Broad Spectrum SPF,' on the bottle to ensure that the product blocks both types of rays.

    Even if it does, however, that’s not an assurance you’re protected against skin cancer.

    A recently released, groundbreaking report from the London Institute of Cancer Research found that even the highest grade SPF 50 allows enough ultra-violent radiation to penetrate the skin, damaging cells and laying the groundwork for cancer.

    Which leads us to Claim No. 2: The higher the SPF, the more effective the sunscreen.

    Here, that assertion is partially true.

    Sunscreens with an SPF of up to 50 deliver increasing protection. Per the American Melanoma Foundation, a product with SPF 2 screens about 50 percent of ultraviolet rays.

    If you move up to SPF 15, it’s 93 percent. And if you hit SPF 34, the level runs up to 97 percent.

    After that, however, according to the FDA there is no discernible difference in the quality of the product.

    So a sunscreen with SPF 50 is pretty much exactly the same as one with SFP 100, when it comes to blocking UVB rays.

    Lastly, what about water-proof sunscreen?

    The FDA says that concept doesn’t exist. Sunscreens aren’t waterproof, and now they can only market themselves as "water resistant."

    Regardless of what type of lotion you use, the recommended practice is reapplying your sunscreen every 40 to 80 minutes.