Serious About SPF: Expert Tips and Busting Myths

It wasn't that long ago that the majority of sun-lovers were blissfully unaware of this. But as science began delivering the unhealthy news, and as the sun-is-bad-for-you stats got worse and worse, so did the myths and misinformation, which still continue today.
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For by Susan Linney

I love the beach but I don't love UV rays. So I'm always suncreened to the gills. (Photo: Andy Kropa)

By now we all should know that the days of tanning oils and silver sun reflectors are dunzo. As good as the warmth may feel on our face, as lovely as it may make our skin look (at first), the fact of the matter is that the sun emits ultraviolet rays that are incredibly harmful to our hides.

It wasn't that long ago that the majority of sun-lovers were blissfully unaware of this. But as science began delivering the unhealthy news, and as the sun-is-bad-for-you stats got worse and worse, so did the myths and misinformation. Which still continue today.

"No sunscreen is 100-percent effective in protecting the skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays," says Fayne Frey, a 20-year board certified dermatologist and founder of the resourceful skincare site "Sunscreen use should be the third line of defense against the sun; the first two being seeking shade and wearing protective clothing when outdoors."

Now if your main intention is to hit the beach and bake, we know you're thinking, "Yeah right, like that's going to happen." But Frey's point is valid, and her advice can still be followed even if you're planning to spend the majority of your summer on the sand. Beach umbrellas are great for creating instant shade, and I'm obsessed with cute sunhats. There are so many beyond stylish -- and sun shielding -- options to choose from.

Calvin Klein Straw Sun Hat, $21, (Photo courtesy

Nevertheless, sunscreen is still a must, and if you want to prevent your face from premature aging, it should be worn daily, whether you're going to the beach or just spending time outdoors. Also -- you're not off the hook if it's cloudy: "Those wrinkle-producing rays can penetrate the clouds and affect your skin just as they would on a sunny day," says Frey.

The good news is that many of today's facial moisturizers, BB creams and foundations contain SPF, so you may be able to get the protection you need for your face from your everyday makeup.

(Photo courtesy

(Photo courtesy

(Photo courtesy

Between those three products, my face is all set and shielded, whether I'm spending the afternoon in the park or just running out for a sandwich.

But back to SPF basics for the beach. The purpose of sunscreen is to protect face and body from ultraviolet sun rays, which penetrate deep into the skin's surface and are a major cause of skin aging and of course, skin cancer.

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, which indicates how long it would take for UVB rays to cause someone's skin to redden when using a sunscreen versus how long it would the take same someone's skin to turn red without sunscreen.

The first myth that I was thrilled to bust (since I've seen so many sunscreens start to boast SPFs of 100 and up, and then raise their price as a result) is that of SPF numbers -- an SPF of 30 is pretty much all you need. "SPF 30 protects against 97% of the sun's UVB ultraviolet rays," Frey says, "so the added protection afforded by sunscreens above SPF 30 is not statistically significant." Which means that you (and your wallet) shouldn't be fooled by higher SPF numbers being boldly touted on sunscreen bottles.

Of course, in order to get that protection you have to not only wear your sunscreen but also apply it properly, and there are many false basic beliefs about that. My husband, for example, says that it makes no sense to apply sunblock until after he's taken a swim. "I'm fine when I'm swimming and it will just wash off and I'll have to put it on all over again," he whines (er, I mean maintains).

Not so. Those UV rays penetrate right through the water, so you are still getting hit even if you're in the ocean and feeling cool. In fact, you're more likely to get a burn since you won't feel like the sun is affecting you. But it is and if you're unprotected, you're getting fried by the minute. Yes, you'll need to reapply when you get out of the water, but really, is that such a big deal? (Hint, hint dear husband.)

And just how much sunscreen does one need to wear? According to Frey, the average adult should smooth on about 1 oz (an amount equal to a shot glass) to cover exposed areas when in a bathing suit. "Most individuals only use a quarter of that amount and therefore, are not getting the full SPF protection listed on the label," says Frey.

That's why I use sunscreen sprays for my body, which I apply liberally, so I know I'm getting plenty of protection. (My favorite is Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Continuous Spray, $10, which works just as well for adults.) Sprays also go on much more seamlessly, so you'll avoid getting those awful missed-spot red splotches. Plus, they provide you with a delicious cooling feeling as you spritz it on.

(Photo courtesy

There's much more information and misinformation on sun protection -- the difference between sunblock and sunscreen, for instance, or what ingredients you should stay away from and which ones are safe. Please chime in in the comments if there's more info you'd like to know, and we'll get you the answers. You should also check out, which has a wealth of information on the subject.

So go forth, shield yourself every which way you can, and enjoy the summer sun!


This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatment. Always check with your doctor or dermatologist if you have sun-related or other medical issues.

Read more of Susan Linney's posts on TueNight. You can find her on Twitter @Susan_Linney.

About TueNight:
TueNight is a weekly online publication for women to share where they've been and explore where they want to go next. We are you, part two.

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