Is sunscreen a waste of time?

Are you wondering if sunscreen lives up to the hype? Read more to find out if wearing sun protection is really worth it.

I must admit, I’m not as good about wearing sun protection as I should be — most of the year. Now that summer is here, I make sure my family wears it much to my kids’ chagrin but we tan even after piling on the SPF, so I wonder if sunscreen is really doing its job.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of an SPF of 30 or higher. Broad spectrum means a sunscreen protects you from UVB and UVA rays. In a nutshell, sunburns are caused by UVB rays, while UVA rays cause wrinkles and leathering of the skin Tanning Mom, anyone? also known as photoaging.

Sounds like sunscreen is definitely not a waste of time, right? Not so fast.

The FDA has new guidelines that take effect on June 18 that call for testing of all over-the-counter sunscreens to ensure they are broad spectrum. Manufacturers can no longer list “waterproof,” “sweatproof” or even “sunblock” on labels.

Learn about new sunscreen guidelines >>

Before you throw out your old sunscreen and head to the drugstore, dermatologist Dina Strachan, MD has answers to other questions you may have about sunscreen.

If I’m going to tan anyway, should I bother?

If your family tans easily, it’s doesn’t always mean something is wrong or that you should swear off sunscreen. Strachan explains, “Sunscreen does not provide 100-percent protection. A tan is a sign that some ultraviolet light has gotten through. People who tan easily those with darker skin will generally tan even with the use of sunscreen.”

Is my child too young for sunscreen?

Strachan cautions that babies shouldn’t spend too much time in the sun, but says, “There are many products formulated for babies and children that are fragrance-free and use the more inert ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. People usually get the majority of their sun damage before they are 18 years old.”

I only need to wear sunscreen when it’s hot out, right?

Think sunscreen is only needed in summer? Think again. “UVA rays are the same year-round and in various climates,” Strachan says. “They cause photoaging and skin cancer but don’t typically cause burns and tans.”

More about summer skin health and skin cancer awareness >>

How can I really be sun smart?

Follow Strachan’s tips:

  1. Be sure to apply adequate amounts of sunscreen.
  2. Reapply sunscreen after two hours of swimming or sweating.
  3. In addition to the use of sunscreen, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and use protective clothing such as wide brimmed hats, sunglasses and long sleeves.

Bottom line — does sunscreen really work?

If you use a broad-spectrum kind, and practice the three “sun smarts,” the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Read more about sunscreen

A complete sunscreen guide for summer
Winning sunscreen battles: Great products kids will let you apply
Sunscreen for kids


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