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July 12, 2011 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Sunscreen: Are you really covered? from WebMD. Debunking the most common myths about sunscreen.

Note: I've linked to the mobile version to avoid the obnoxious ads. Original version here.
posted by blue_beetle (80 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
"For better protection apply 1 to 2 ounces (the size of a Ping-Pong ball) of sunscreen on your body 30 minutes before going outdoors [so your skin can absorb it completely], and every two hours to any exposed skin after that," Gohara says.

The only way sunscreen could be hazardous to your health is if it is absorbed into the body, which does not happen, says Amy Wechsler, MD, dermatologist

One of them is wrong.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:53 AM on July 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm going to wait for the Baz Luhrman version.
posted by chavenet at 7:54 AM on July 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I like that they debunk the debunking of the first myth. Their first "myth" is "The higher the SPF, the better the protection." They then claim that is false, but go on to explain that it's true that the higher the SPF the better the protection.

Their explanation might make sense if the myth was that SPF 50 had 1/2 the protection of SPF 100. But that was not the "myth" they used.
posted by stan.kjar at 7:56 AM on July 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


"On August 29th 1997 it's going to feel pretty fucking real to you, too! Anybody not wearing number two million sunblock in gonna have a real bad day, get it?"
posted by greenhornet at 7:56 AM on July 12, 2011 [16 favorites]


I went on a 100-mile moped ride a couple days ago and applied sunscreen all over myself... EXCEPT for the backs of my wrists.

It's been utter misery.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:57 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like that they debunk the debunking of the first myth.

Well, that and the second myth is true. So I'm not sure what to do with that. Does that mean that 6 of Hercules labors actually happened?
posted by yerfatma at 7:59 AM on July 12, 2011


I am deeply Scottish on one side and Northern Italian-Swiss on the other.

I've made peace with the fact that sunlight is something that happens to other people.
posted by The Whelk at 8:00 AM on July 12, 2011 [26 favorites]


I got the worst sunburn of my life using (and reapplying religiously, following label instructions) an SPF 75 sunscreen. Like, blisters form, skin falls off in sheets, scars your body bad sunburn.

Ever since then, I've only used sunsblocks with zinc or titanium dioxide in them--you know, the stuff that actually blocks the sun. That oxybenzone helioplex whatever stuff doesn't do shit for my skin.

But it is REALLY hard to find the stuff with zinc in your average drugstore. Hint to all you other pasty kids out there: use baby sunscreen. They generally reserve the good stuff for babies.
posted by phunniemee at 8:01 AM on July 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Isn't WebMD the one that we're supposed to ignore because it's so heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry?
posted by craichead at 8:02 AM on July 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


1. The higher the SPF, the better the protection.

FALSE. It sounds right -- a sun protection factor of 100 should be twice as protective as SPF 50. But it's only a few percentage points more effective. An SPF of 15 screens 93% of the sun's rays and an SPF of 30 screens 97%.


How to baffle with percentages. The SPF-15 allows 7% (actually 6.67%) of the sun's rays to reach your skin. The SPF-30 Allows only 3% (actually 3.33%) to reach you. That makes it twice as effective. Don't they teach math to medical students?
posted by rocket88 at 8:02 AM on July 12, 2011 [21 favorites]


The SPF-15 allows 7% (actually 6.67%) of the sun's rays to reach your skin. The SPF-30 Allows only 3% (actually 3.33%) to reach you. That makes it twice as effective.

No, that makes it half as ineffective.
posted by DU at 8:09 AM on July 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


The SPF rating in the United States only rates the blockage of UVB. UVA is not covered. If you are UVA sensitive, you're stuck with physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (often micronized to make them less opaque), or photostabilized chemical blockers, like azobenzone or fancy Euro-style imported Mexoyrl (aka Ecamsule). There are other rating systems for UVA protection, in countries where the darkening of the skin is socially undesirable. While the United States is finally planning on updating its rating system (as typical, safety warnings take decades longer to show up here for consumer products), we will still have a debt, both in updating "public knowledge" and future lurking melanomas from those who were confident in the protection provided by the SPF rating system.
posted by adipocere at 8:14 AM on July 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Information is Beautiful had a nice post about this topic just yesterday.
posted by in a dark glassly at 8:15 AM on July 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


The article has a unfortunate mix of crazy text and crappy design. Here's some sunscreen info from various .edu sources:

New rules for sunscreen in the works [harvard]
SPF tops out at 50+

The term “sun protection factor” is misleading because it’s a measure only of sunburn and UVB protection, not protection against the entire UV spectrum.

Generous and liberal use still encouraged. Most people use less than half the amount of the sunscreen required to get the SPF protection on the label.

No skin aging or skin cancer claims allowed. Despite the new warning, sunscreen makers would not be allowed to claim their products reduce skin aging or prevent skin cancer.


Sunblock and Sunscreen Lotions [berkeley]
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:18 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know why they would debunk the SPF claims and then suggest shitty high SPF crap as the dermatologist pick.

Most of the real high SPF stuff is using newer chemicals that don't block evenly against UVA and UVB evenly. Many of them offer good UVB protection or UVA2 but most of the non-mineral ones (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) suck on UVA1 protection.

Get a nice SPF 15-25 with zinc oxide and you should be pretty well protected, especially for kids. Sure it goes on messily and takes longer to rub in but it's probably worth it if you are concerned about photoaging and possible skin cancer.
posted by vuron at 8:19 AM on July 12, 2011


I remember hearing this story on NPR and thinking it had a pretty good overview.
posted by codacorolla at 8:21 AM on July 12, 2011


Not all sunscreens are created equal.
posted by Dasein at 8:22 AM on July 12, 2011


Lewis Black on sunblock.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:33 AM on July 12, 2011


My father and I are walking advertisements for sunscreen. He is seventy-six now and looks like a napalm victim from all the skin damage he suffered, and the subsequent removal of various pre-cancerous blots (actinic keratoses, AK). They've even removed the tops of his ears. No melanoma yet, though.

I am forty five and have been getting the same AKs. Had some of them removed. I feel a little like Darth Vader, cutting away parts of my body until there is little human left.

I bathe my kids in sunscreen.
posted by Xoebe at 8:33 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nanoparticles, anyone?
posted by peeedro at 8:35 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


SPF is a non-linear scale. In other news, it appears that American primary school math courses are lacking.

Also, UVA protection is important. Parsol 1789 (Avobenzone) is good for this.
posted by -1 at 8:38 AM on July 12, 2011


apply 1 to 2 ounces (the size of a Ping-Pong ball) of sunscreen

Well, that's too expensive. I wear a titanium suit instead. True, it costs $120,000 but it's resusable.
posted by storybored at 8:38 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't know why the zinc oxide stuff is so hard to find, but my dermatologist recommended it to me and I really struggled to find more than two small containers of it recently, and I've already used up both of them. I found them lurking in a Walgreen's with a BOGO offer, but they were buried amidst all the giant tubes and spray cans of SPF50+/100+ stuff. (The folks with all the acid for men who wear shorts in the recent AskMe thread would be happy that my lack of sunscreen has actually led me to wear pants more often than shorts this summer.)

I have no history of melanoma in my family, but my mother has had both basal and squamous (as have other people in my family) and childhood summers on the beach that left me with a Milky Way of freckles heading down my shoulders to my hands on both sides has me pretty paranoid and it's frustrating to not be able to find that stuff in larger quantities.

Regarding the Information is Beautiful link, the higher incidence of melanoma in Australia is really striking. It looks like both the US and Australia have seen a decrease in melanoma after years of trending higher: if that isn't just statistical noise, has anyone offered an explanation as to why?
posted by Kosh at 8:39 AM on July 12, 2011


Another Scottish Highland/Irish - Northern Italian/Swiss here.

I just spent a month outside (all day), almost always over 5,000 feet of altitude. When I had SPF 50 - I BURNED. When I had SPF 100, I did not.

I like the "the higher the SPF is not very critical after a point" idea, but I'm not seeing it. When I use SPF 100, it's the crazy fancy Neutrogena Helioplex face stuff (for my entire body), when it was SPF 50, it was like, Banana Boat something something. I couldn't ever find it, but if I could get that crazy opauque nose stuff used for like pool life guards for your nose, I would.

I'm keeping with my crazy fancy stuff.

Also sun covers on my arms seemed to help. They at least are rated to UPF50. Problem is, they make you warmer. Not so good in the NM desert.

I also don't really agree with the, "a shirt has SPF of 8". If that was true, I'd be sunburnt everwhere everyday. Places where I was wearing even clothing given bad protection - like a thin bike jersey, I did not burn. Tell me what's going on.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, convenient. Maybe I can save myself an AskMe: Are there any sunscreens that don't smell like the damn beach, or is that just sort of built in to the chemicals involved? I mean, the coconut-scented stuff makes me want a iced adult beverage something fierce, but even the normally scented stuff gets my bile up. I know I should wear it more regularly since skin cancer is a problem for my family, but the scent just drives me up a wall.

(I don't tend to use moisturizing lotion much for much the same reason..)
posted by Kyol at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2011


So if UVA causes aging and UVB causes burning what does UVC cause? Or is it pollible that they just split up the widely accepted UV rance (400nm-100nm) into 3 regions and called them A,B, and C?

I really hate it when "doctors" try to do science.
posted by koolkat at 8:45 AM on July 12, 2011


I wrap myself in tinfoil. Keeps out the sun and gives that delicious smell of frying bacon!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:45 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't know why the zinc oxide stuff is so hard to find, but my dermatologist recommended it to me and I really struggled to find more than two small containers of it recently, and I've already used up both of them

Try the kinds that say 'baby' on them, or try looking at places like Whole Foods -- they carry several brands of the natural/mineral stuff.
posted by statolith at 8:49 AM on July 12, 2011


The statements on Vitamin D are rather confusing.

The connection between sun exposure and skin cancer is pretty cut and dried, so doctors and health educators give the advice to stay out of or block the sun, and avoid skin cancer. The bureaucratic public education machine is like a freight train. It is difficult to slow it down.

But various studies have since come out indicating that some daily sun exposure actually reduces the rate of most cancers, except, of course, skin cancer. This causes all kinds of problems with these doctors and ecucators.

Then, when a study came out showing that teenagers going to tanning booths had better vitamin D levels (and another showing overall lower levels of cancer rates, that I can't find right now), these doctors and educators just about had heart attacks.

This web site confusingly says that despite the fact that you get much needed vitamin D from the sun, you really should just take a pill, even though evidence suggests that it isn't as effective if it comes from a pill.

I've heard that getting vitamins from the sun is like cooking bread. If you try to speed it up by turning the oven up high, you only burn the bread. If you cook it too long, you burn the bread. As the saying goes "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun." Here's my layman's advice that goes completely contrary to what this website suggests: If you are going out at noon in summer or for a long time, put on sunscreen. If you are going out in the morning or late afternoon or for a short period of time, then don't.

And try to get some sun every day.
posted by eye of newt at 8:53 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was linked above, but it bears repeating:

The Environmental Working Group did a comprehensive examination of the ingredients in sunscreens sold across the US. Takeaway: most sunscreens are really really crappy. The two ingredients they look for most of all are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, in high concentrations.

Just as an example -- that WebMD article recommends Coppertone Oil-Free Suncreen Lotion, which the EWG website is middling on. While the sun protection is moderate to good, it contains oxybenzone, which the EWG points out is a synthetic estrogen that can be absorbed through the skin. Another recommendation from WebMD: Hawaiian Tropic Sensitive Skin Face Lotion. EWG's opinion: maybe not such a good idea.

As that NYT blog post mentions, though, Friends of the Earth disagreed, saying they believe nanoparticle sunscreens may be bad for us.
posted by incessant at 8:56 AM on July 12, 2011


"But it is REALLY hard to find the stuff with zinc in your average drugstore."

Really? I have no trouble finding it at Walgreens or Target. Neutrogena makes some (usually titanium dioxide) you can find most anywhere. (Though Neutrogena makes likes 40 sunscreens so I always have to check the label.) My phone has a perpetual sheen of sunscreen on the screen from the non-absorbing-in surface sunscreens, which I've always been able to find at the drugstore.

Target even carries California Baby, which EWG approves of.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:01 AM on July 12, 2011


As a kid, I could never figure out why, but it seemed that I got more burned when I used higher SPF sunscreen. Sometime later (probably as an ever-so sage teenager) I noticed that the bottles of 45, purchased and used by my "waste-not, want-not" generation mother, were like, ten years old. The bottles of 15 hadn't been hanging around since before I was born, probably because I bought them or influenced their purchase. So, yeah, a shelf life of 4 years might be fine, but pressing the margins is...questionable and confusing to young children.

Now I'm using CVS Neutrogena rip-off 45, mostly because it smells nice, or so I tell myself. Or, perhaps because I seem to be turning into my mother. They had a special.
posted by xiaolongbao at 9:02 AM on July 12, 2011


The site Dasein linked to is pretty good about giving information about various organic brands. For instance I was kinda distressed to know that the tube of Jason Natural Cosmetics Sunbrellas: FAMILY Natural Sunblock, SPF 45 had poor UVA coverage and a pretty high level of health concerns (fragrance and some of the active chemicals). So much for picking stuff up any old organic family sunscreen from the store.

After further research we decided on Elemental Herbs Kids Sunscreen, SPF 20 for our daughter because it seemed to be pretty much as safe as it could get in terms of active ingredients and lack of fragrances. Sure I have to order online and it costs a bunch and it's an effort to put it on a 18 month old but considering the family history of skin cancer it seems like a good solution.

Avobenzone does seem like a pretty decent option for non-mineral UVA protection but iirc it only blocks UVA1 not UVA2 so it needs to be in a compound formulation.
posted by vuron at 9:05 AM on July 12, 2011


So if UVA causes aging and UVB causes burning what does UVC cause?

Extra nipples.

Or is it pollible that they just split up the widely accepted UV rance (400nm-100nm) into 3 regions and called them A,B, and C?

Yes, basically A, B, and C correspond to near, middle, and far UV, respectively.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2011


dirigibleman: " Extra nipples."

I used to joke about my third nipple . . . until my doctor suggested having it removed and it turned out to be a little melanoma.
posted by theredpen at 9:19 AM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


People are always amused/horrified by the sunburns I get due to my sometimes non-thorough application of sunscreen. Nothing like having a white outline of a hand on your leg for a few weeks.

Most recent was failing to put sunscreen on my lower right leg and foot. I was wearing those gladiator style sandals. And so now I have a zebra leg. I blame Keith (Richards' biography.....got so engrossed in his heroin hijinx that I didn't notice the skin sizzling until it was too late).
posted by medeine at 9:28 AM on July 12, 2011


Studies show the average person slaps on one-seventh to one-tenth of the amount of SPF needed to reach the number that's on the bottle.

If not using enough significantly decreases your protection but the average person uses a lot less product than is needed to offer the protection listed on the label, either the instructions or the product should be recalibrated. It seems as if there could even be a legal problem here.

Also.
posted by pracowity at 9:37 AM on July 12, 2011


If you are using sufficient sunscreen, it cannot last past its expiry date (assuming you buy recent stuff in normal quantities).

When I was a kid, we used to use stuff with PABA, and I know there are questions about whether it causes problems on its own, but it was miraculous at preventing sunburns. And suntans.
posted by jeather at 9:37 AM on July 12, 2011


Zebra leg sounds cute.

I am taking the kids to swimming lessons this week, which means two hours in the full sun, which feels like being on the sun this week. I am having trouble preventing the Close Encounters tan problem, because the sun is parked on one side of me the whole time.
posted by theredpen at 9:38 AM on July 12, 2011


The vitamin D deficiency scare is just a marketing ploy cooked up by sun bed manufacturers. Most people who don't live in coal mines do just fine without needing to nuke their bodies artificially. And anyway, the answer is to, you know, go outside, not climb into a human kebab spit. Sheesh.
posted by londonmark at 9:39 AM on July 12, 2011


I had a melanoma cut off my back 2 years ago this September. Have had a number of scans, and sentinel node surgery, and, so far, no evidence of it having spread.

Needless to say, I am pretty rigorous about sunscreen and hats. I still need to go to the dermatologist every 6 months to get checked, and if I am tan anywhere, I get yelled at. But once in awhile I will miss my feet, or something and feel it.

Northern European, blue eyes. . .
posted by Danf at 9:51 AM on July 12, 2011


Are there any sunscreens that don't smell like the damn beach, or is that just sort of built in to the chemicals involved? I mean, the coconut-scented stuff makes me want a iced adult beverage something fierce, but even the normally scented stuff gets my bile up. I know I should wear it more regularly since skin cancer is a problem for my family, but the scent just drives me up a wall.

I have the same problem, I'm really sensitive to the smell of the sunscreeny active ingredients, so much so that it feels like I'm tasting them, even hours after application. (Note: I'm not applying them to my tongue.)
posted by desuetude at 9:52 AM on July 12, 2011


Don't they teach math to medical students?

Medical researcher discovers integration, gets 75 citations. (Paper is from 1994; that link goes to a blog post from 2007; slashdot rediscovered "medical researcher discovers integration" in 2010.)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:53 AM on July 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


If people are using one-seventh of the amount of sunscreen they're "supposed" to, what's the effective SPF? I'm thinking it's the seventh root of what it says on the bottle -- so SPF 30 would act like SPF 1.6 -- but that seems too low. I'm guessing my crude mental model of how sunscreen works is wrong.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:55 AM on July 12, 2011


I don't know why the zinc oxide stuff

I haven't read all the comments, but has anyone tried the diaper rash stuff? We used Butt Paste when we were going through SO MUCH of the "lifeguard" stuff that it was affecting our budget. It's just zinc oxide as far as I know.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:09 AM on July 12, 2011


If I put Butt Paste on my face. I would feel like an asshole.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:30 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


But you'd SMELL like clean baby butt.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:39 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"re there any sunscreens that don't smell like the damn beach, or is that just sort of built in to the chemicals involved?"

Yes. Many marketed in cosmetic lines are unscented or smell like some kind of cosmetic (floral or powdery rather than beachy). The daily Neutrogena I wear is unscented. (I'm allergic to many scents so it's important.) Neutrogena Men sunscreen smells vaguely manly but not too strong. (Sort of like a "sport-scent" deodorant, I think.) Many baby sunscreens are unscented.

Not to shill for neutrogena, it's just what I mostly use so I have the most experience with it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:41 AM on July 12, 2011


I just got back from the Winnipeg Folk Festival. A week of my cave-dwelling whiteness being exposed to direct sunlight. I applied sunscreen (SPF 85+ waterproof) every half hour or so. Clothing still shielded my skin better (there was sunscreen under the clothing too, but not as much.

I did miss two spots one day - two red wings on my shoulder blades. Right where my bra straps normally rest. DISCOMFORT.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:42 AM on July 12, 2011



But you'd SMELL like clean baby butt.


Would I be soft as clean baby butt? I'm certainly as white.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:45 AM on July 12, 2011


ALBA makes a green tea scented sunscreen that I wear every day. It has the least objectionable smell of any sunscreen ever AND it's titanium and zinc oxides, not the other crap. I love it and Whole Foods carries it. It ain't cheap but worth it not to smell like a pool at the office.

Also, the real thing I've learned since I became a sun phobic and terrified of turning leathery in old age is that NO sunscreen is really good enough for all day exposure and that goes double when sweat and water are involved. I don't care if it says sweat and water resistant, that label designation is good for an hour tops and I still tan, which is bad. Now I have a few SPF long sleeve shirts that I wear for hiking, tubing, etc. They really work when normal sunscreen is not enough.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:58 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also use the Neutrogena sunscreen and have had good results with it. No coconutty or beachy smell. I have rosacea and am able to use Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen on my face. Don't know the ingredients, though.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:06 AM on July 12, 2011


The vitamin D deficiency scare is just a marketing ploy cooked up by sun bed manufacturers. Most people who don't live in coal mines do just fine without needing to nuke their bodies artificially.

Eh. I don't think sunblock is going to cause a Vitamin D deficiency, but I disagree with you that it's not a growing problem. I just think we don't know the cause of this growing problem.

To wit, I felt like crap last year and a doctor finally though to test my Vit D levels. They were *shockingly* low. This, despite the fact that I'd just spent the summer at 12,000 feet in a nearly-equatorial country.

A friend of mine also discovered a Vit D deficiency recently. He works in said equatorial country about four months out of the year.

I don't know what's going on here, but it seems to be A Thing. And heavy-duty Vitamin D supplements did a ton to increase my energy. My levels are now up to par, but it looks like I can't count on sunshine and leafy greens to keep them there. :/
posted by artemisia at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have had a lot of trouble finding zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreens, too - even after reading the ingredients on every single tube of the stuff at Walgreen's. Maybe it's a local stocking issue.

I've had slightly better luck at CVS, and I've also just found some with zinc oxide at Trader Joe's.

It was really surprising to me, though, how hard I had to look to find the stuff with the oxides.
posted by kristi at 11:54 AM on July 12, 2011


I am now (as always when I'm on the blue) sitting in the shadow vicinity of the Space Needle.

This "sun," it... burns, you say? Very strange indeed.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:57 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article seems kinda bad.

The FDA's new rules for sunscreen that Foci for Analysis alludes to would be a good post. Maybe the mods can add a link or two?

"The agency [FDA] has developed new protocols for testing the products' effectiveness at blocking the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. Under the new guidelines, sunscreens may be labeled "broad spectrum" if they block UVB radiation and a percentage of UVA radiation. UVB is the major cause of sunburn, while both UVA and UVB cause early skin aging and skin cancer.

Products that are broad spectrum and have a sun protection factor of 15 or higher may be labeled to say that they reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging. Conversely, those that are not broad spectrum or that have an SPF lower than 15 will be required to carry a warning that they have not been shown to reduce such risks.

Sunscreens will no longer be able to claim to have a specific SPF above 50: The highest category now will be 50+. "We don't have sufficient data to show that those with an SPF higher than 50 provide greater protection," Woodcock said.

Products will no longer be allowed to be labeled as sun blocks because there is no evidence that they block all the radiation in sunlight. Products also may no longer be labeled "waterproof" or "sweat proof." Instead, they can only be called "water resistant," and labels must state clearly how long such protection lasts — either 40 minutes or 80 minutes."

posted by mrgrimm at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2011


The vitamin D deficiency scare is just a marketing ploy cooked up by sun bed manufacturers. Most people who don't live in coal mines do just fine without needing to nuke their bodies artificially. And anyway, the answer is to, you know, go outside, not climb into a human kebab spit. Sheesh.

The sun does not provide enough Vitamin D in the San Francisco Bay Area between October and March. I supplement with pills. Maybe it's a placebo, but I do feel less depressed and more energetic when taking them.

"Season, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, and sunscreen are among the factors that affect UV radiation exposure and vitamin D synthesis" (US NIH)

"A few studies have concluded that the effect is significant — a reduction as great as tenfold. But more recent, randomized studies that followed people for months and in some cases years suggest that the effect [of sunscreen on Vitamin D synthesis) is negligible." (2009 New York Times)

"Even weak sunscreens (SPF=8) block your body's ability to generate vitamin D by 95%. This is how sunscreen products actually cause disease -- by creating a critical vitamin deficiency in the body." (Natural News)

"Just last month, the Federal Trade Commission charged The Indoor Tanning Association with making false safety claims." (2010 Stylelist)

"Sunscreen of less than 15 SPF may still allow some of the UVB rays through for vitamin D synthesis. However, use of most sunblocks can result in the same vitamin D deficiency experienced by people who avoid the sun and don't take supplements. Some skincare companies now market sunscreen products including vitamin D that sound promising; however, scientific studies have not yet been completed indicating the body can absorb vitamin D from lotion.

So I think answer #7 is dubious at best. Myth #1 should have been enough to turn me off, but it seems like the whole thing is full of misinformation.

Take it down.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2011


Sunscreen as seen in ultraviolet light
posted by Rhaomi at 1:04 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hate sunscreen. The mess. The bother. The icky-sticky feeling. The ruining of clothes and everything-it-comes-in-contact-with of it. How it gets into the sammich I'm having, or anything I drink. The time spent applying. The time spent listening to my wife's dire warnings about how I'll burn without it. All of it.

But I spend tons of time in harsh sunlight, I take frequent hiking and camping trips to the desert.

My solution is clothes. Yes, I love flip-flops t-shirts and shorts, but I only put those on when it's late afternoon. Otherwise, body armor. Note, that covering up with clothes is not going to overheat you, quite the opposite, it'll keep you cooler - note how the people of North Africa approach this.

Australians have a lot of experience with harsh sunlight and clothes. There's this Aussie company that makes clothes specifically for hikers and nature lovers, and they pay attention to UV permeability: Coolibar... not super fashionable, but very practical. I've bought from them, and it works (I'm not affiliated with them in any way, other than as a customer).

Also, 1 tab daily of vitamin D3, 1000IU.

Clothing, sunglasses, hat, Vitamin D3. Done. Far more effective than sunscreen, and without all that mess.
posted by VikingSword at 1:28 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


@ phunniemee
"But it is REALLY hard to find the stuff with zinc in your average drugstore. Hint to all you other pasty kids out there: use baby sunscreen. They generally reserve the good stuff for babies."

Yes, baby sunscreen.

By the way, it isn't really that difficult to make a decent sunscreen with Titanium and Zinc nanoparticles yourself (I don't tolerate the perfume shit on my skin...).
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:38 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The dermatologists' guideline in Canada has been SPF 30 or higher for a while now, although there is no mention of the difference between SPF30 versus higher SPF products. I have very sensitive skin, and I like that they also emphasize the need for hypoallergenic and fragrance free sunscreens. However, they don't list my favourite sunscreen on their list, so I certainly wouldn't consider their list of recommendations to be exclusive. I've found baby sunscreens to be better than most, but they are still very often fragranced.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 2:50 PM on July 12, 2011


monkeys with typewriters, that one says earthkind but doesn't mention (at first glance) the any not-killing-coral-reef properties. Does it say anything about being reef-safe on the bottle? Because that would be awesome.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:21 PM on July 12, 2011


If I put Butt Paste on my face. I would feel like an asshole.

Just say you are a surfer .

I would never paddle out without a high-neck, long-sleeve rashguard. I'd be out in Hawaiian sun for 2-4 hours at a time and hated the idea of absorbing sunscreen chemicals. But I am also one of those endangered freckled beings -- so I'd slather my face and hands in zinc oxide. Even the ocean didn't wash it off.

"Face" is a good brand - or have fun with colors ... find them in surf shops ... next to the sex wax ;-)
posted by Surfurrus at 4:11 PM on July 12, 2011


Ugh. As another pale-skinned-light-eyed-freckled person, sunscreens have always been a pain. Last summer I discovered that fake science or not, I didn't burn when wearing SPF 100, while I did with SPF 50. This summer I'm breastfeeding, and so get to worry about the fact that all of the non-oxide sunscreen ingredients show up in breast milk in high concentrations. Because of this I switched to burt's bees non-chemical spf 30 sunscreen but don't love it. I am about ready to give up on the whole thing and just try to bring back the parasol.
posted by girl scientist at 4:59 PM on July 12, 2011


Did you know that the sun actually shines at night? Apparently the sunlight bounces off the moon.

I never go out at night without a sunscreen that's at least SPF 0.5.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:39 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I live in Sydney, but my genes did not evolve here (Northern European) Having been slathered in suncream as a kid, I now can't stand the stuff, the idea of putting 100gm of suncream on my face everyday is horrible. I, too, employ the avoidance method. Also, I've been burnt too many times wearing imperfectly applyed suncream to consider it a good solution. (Burnt eyelids anyone?)

Australia has had a significant public health campaign for the past 30 years about sun safety, which has changed habits significantly. Most of the people you now see sunbathing are backpackers. (You can tell how long a british backpacker has been here by their colour. White = less than a day, Red = 1-3 days, Peeling = 3-5 and Brown = Week+)
posted by kjs4 at 5:55 PM on July 12, 2011


Coppertone Sensitive Skin, SPF 50, with zinc oxide fucking rules. I've just spent a week in Turks and Caicos, outside every day, constantly in the pool or the ocean, and only got mildly tanned. Blonde and blue eyed and lotsa moles: I'm like melanoma's dream girl.

It also rated well (for a national brand) by those paraben-fearing hippies at EWG. I think it got a 3.
posted by gsh at 6:17 PM on July 12, 2011


Oh, and I've always heard you need to use at least a shot glass worth of sunscreen in order to be uh, covered. As a professionally anxious person, I use a juice glass worth. YMMV.
posted by gsh at 6:20 PM on July 12, 2011


I really like the Badger line of sunscreens. It uses Zinc Oxide (UVA+UVAB), smells good, and has less "bad" ingredients than other sunscreens.

That said...do I use sunscreen? No, I do not. I probably should, although I'm very rarely out in the sun anyways. I'm sure that one day, that year in Egypt without sunscreen is going to definitely catch up with me.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:27 PM on July 12, 2011


National Cancer Institute web site on Vitamin D.

A large number of scientific studies have investigated a possible role for vitamin D in cancer prevention. The first results came from epidemiologic studies known as geographic correlation studies. In these studies, an inverse relationship was found between sunlight exposure levels in a given geographic area and the rates of incidence and death for certain cancers in that area. Individuals living in southern latitudes were found to have lower rates of incidence and death for these cancers than those living at northern latitudes. Because sunlight/UV exposure is necessary for the production of vitamin D3, researchers hypothesized that variation in vitamin D levels accounted for the observed relationships.

posted by eye of newt at 7:43 PM on July 12, 2011


I have all but given up on guessing when I will or won't get a sunburn. I've slathered SPF 70 on, gotten adequate coverage, and still ended up with a hideous sunburn after less than two hours in the sun. I've put a minimal amount of SPF 50 on and wandered around in the sun for hours, and no sunburn. And now all this about the ingredients in the sunscreen being potentially dangerous, but it's dangerous to go out without it, and auuuughhhh conflicting information overload!

That Information is Beautiful graphic is pretty helpful though. 1-2 fingers worth of sunscreen per "zone" seems way more reasonable to me than a ping pong ball size glob of it.
posted by yasaman at 8:42 PM on July 12, 2011


fwiw, i usually use 45 of some sort and i would just buy generic walgreen's version, but my wife will go for something lower on the EWG like alba, which is fine, but then hey, walgreen's spf 45 scores as good or better than any alba product. thanks, mr. walgreen's. now i don't feel so bad. (uh oh ... "Biochemical or cellular level changes" ...?)

BUT IS IT ETHICALLY SOURCED?!
posted by mrgrimm at 8:56 PM on July 12, 2011


Stay out of the sun and you won't have to concern yourself with sunscreen.

Oblig: Dear 16 Year-Old Me
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:44 AM on July 13, 2011


I also don't really agree with the, "a shirt has SPF of 8". If that was true, I'd be sunburnt everwhere everyday

Yeah, that's complete bullshit; anybody with a farmer's tan can show you exactly how little burning/tanning happens through a shirt.

I also like the advice to put sunscreen on your face every day, no matter the weather.

Also UVA are "the rays that cause aging?" Presumably I can live forever with enough sunblock, then?
posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:58 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know I'm arguing against the tide (which seems to be par for the course), but at least look at the National Cancer Institute link above before deciding to stay out of the sun or put on sunscreen every day.

Here's my theory of medical science:
1. They come up with a discovery. Examples: "Sun exposure leads to skin cancer" "Cholesterol correlates with heart attacks" "Obesity correlates with poor health"
2. They send out a 'message', public announcements, advice for all doctors to give their patients
"Wear sunscreen at all times", "Don't eat high cholesterol foods", "Measure your BMI and lose weight"
3. New research goes contrary to the "message"
"Low sun exposure leads to low vitamin D, which leads to increased cancer (yes, even melanoma!--sunburn is bad, but some sun is better than none!)" "Most cholesterol is created by the body" "Exercise is a much better predictor of health than obesity"

But at this point the message is no longer science, it is political. Any research to the contrary doesn't get funded or gets shouted down. Facts become subservient to the 'message'. The first science facts have won the race, therefore they win the war.

The only exception in my examples is the cholesterol message, but that's only because drug companies came out with a profitable drug that lowers cholesterol.

I say it again: get some sun -- not enough to burn, but a few minutes a day, without sunscreen.

As I said, I know I'm arguing against the 'message' but maybe someone will listen and improve their health.
posted by eye of newt at 7:57 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Did the WebMD article say anything about how darker skinned people still need sunscreen? Because if so, I missed it.

Or do we not need to bother? In which case, lol white people problems.

(WEB MD DOESN'T CARE ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE!)
posted by Eideteker at 8:03 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's my theory of medical science:
1. They come up with a discovery. Examples: "Sun exposure leads to skin cancer" "Cholesterol correlates with heart attacks" "Obesity correlates with poor health"
2. They send out a 'message', public announcements, advice for all doctors to give their patients
"Wear sunscreen at all times", "Don't eat high cholesterol foods", "Measure your BMI and lose weight"
3. New research goes contrary to the "message"
"Low sun exposure leads to low vitamin D, which leads to increased cancer (yes, even melanoma!--sunburn is bad, but some sun is better than none!)" "Most cholesterol is created by the body" "Exercise is a much better predictor of health than obesity"

But at this point the message is no longer science, it is political. Any research to the contrary doesn't get funded or gets shouted down. Facts become subservient to the 'message'. The first science facts have won the race, therefore they win the war.


That's really not how it works. It's more like:

1) Scientists make highly-specific and granular discovery in controlled conditions to provide solid data for related research. Example: Resveratrol, a chemical which is naturally present in the skins of red grapes, is demonstrated to prolong the lifespan and retard the onset of age-related markers in Nothobranchius furzeri. (That's a fish.)

2) "ZOMG Drinking Red Wine Is Fountain Of Youth!!," says mainstream newspapers, TV networks, and magazines! They wish to report on scientifically important discoveries, but also are in the business of making money, so they put a sexy headline on top of all that boring ol' dusty science. Sometimes they remember to point out that you're not a fish.

3) Research does what it's supposed to do -- not make assumptions, test everything, attempt to reproduce results. Newspapers, TV networks, and magazines dutifully misinterpret these findings as well, and then ask the Researchers what they think about all the fuss. "Researchers Warn That Getting Ragingly Drunk Every Night Will Not Stop You From Aging. Quite The Contrary." TV commentators scowl and look confused.

4) Researchers sigh, get back to work. Examples: "Preincubation with resveratrol decreased arachidonic acid release and COX-2 induction in mouse peritoneal macrophages stimulated with tumor promoter PMA, ROI, or lipopolysaccharides (LPS)."

At this point, a few people actually look up a journal article or two. Most people continue believing whatever they wanted to believe in the first place.
posted by desuetude at 12:06 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


2) "ZOMG Drinking Red Wine Is Fountain Of Youth!!," says mainstream newspapers, TV networks, and magazines! They wish to report on scientifically important discoveries, but also are in the business of making money, so they put a sexy headline on top of all that boring ol' dusty science. Sometimes they remember to point out that you're not a fish.

True, lots of scientists think that their research in the only active research on the planet.

But there are also scientists who, you know, study the effect of red wine on longevity, and have certainly found correlations between drinking red wine and living longer.

Red wine procyanidins, vascular health and longevity (R. Corder et al., Oenology: Red wine procyanidins and vascular health, Nature vol. 444, p. 566; 30 November 2006)

On the other hand, a sizeable number of other research reports have indicated that the antioxidants in red wine may be more protective than other types of alcohol in preventing atherosclerosis. Every glass of wine contains approximately 200 different phenolic compounds (or poly-phenols), of which several have been noted as antioxidants because they have been shown to slow the potentially damaging cell oxidation process.
In one such study conducted in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1996 rabbits were fed a high cholesterol diet and either given red wine, red wine without the alcohol, or no wine at all. After three months, the aorta (the largest artery) was examined for fatty plaques . Researchers found that in the rabbits not given any alcohol, 60% of their aortas were covered with fatty plaques; this declined to 50% in the rabbits fed the non-alcoholic red wine; and to 40% in the rabbits given red wine. All of the rabbits had 20 times the normal amounts of LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in their blood after eating the high fat diet. Their HDL cholesterol levels were unaffected.


Humans are not rabbits, but your argument that most newspapers print misleading headlines based on single research studies is specious. Or just a bad example. There have been lots and lots of studies on the health benefits of red wine.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:02 PM on July 14, 2011


I think sombreros are going to get cool in a serious way.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:03 PM on July 14, 2011


Humans are not rabbits, but your argument that most newspapers print misleading headlines based on single research studies is specious. Or just a bad example. There have been lots and lots of studies on the health benefits of red wine.

Newspapers print misleading headlines based largely on single high-profile publications after every single major scientific meeting. And there were actually a rash of articles conflating research specifically on dosing with resveratrol with consumption of red wine. (Two totally different things.)

And I know there have been a lot of studies on the health benefits of red wine, especially the potential cardiac benefit, but I believe the extent of the role that resveratrol plays is still quite contested? Regardless, people still are not rabbits. "Promising implications" do not equal "medical recommendations for humans." Seemingly rock-solid evidence in animal models fails to translate to therapeutics for humans all the time.
posted by desuetude at 10:03 PM on July 14, 2011


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