With Long Islanders heading out to enjoy the sun this...

With Long Islanders heading out to enjoy the sun this Memorial Day weekend, Newsday asked dermatologists about some of the misinformation surrounding sunscreen. Seen here: Coopers Beach in Southampton in 2022. Credit: John Roca

Dermatologists agree sunscreen is one of the best tools to prevent burns and protect against skin cancer.

But every day they battle myths, aided by a barrage of misinformation on social media and other sources. A recent national survey found 1 in 7 adults younger than 35 thought daily sunscreen use was more harmful than direct sun exposure and a quarter believed a sunburn could be prevented by drinking water and staying hydrated. Almost one-third of the people who responded to the Orlando Health Cancer Institute survey said a tan makes people look better and healthier.

“I feel like there were a couple of years where people were big on sunscreen and taking care of their health,” said Dr. Raman Madan, chief of dermatology at Glen Cove Hospital. “Now people are kind of going to the extreme in their efforts to be organic.”

Some of Madan’s patients have told him they heard sunscreen causes skin cancer or believe if they get a baseline tan it will prevent them from getting burned and possibly getting skin cancer.

"People are kind of going to the extreme in their...

"People are kind of going to the extreme in their efforts to be organic," Dr. Raman Madan said at his New Hyde Park office on Thursday. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

“They want to be natural, which is all well and good, but then they want to eliminate and not use something that is known to be helpful,” he said. “Sunscreen has a lot of benefits and it’s well documented. Almost every patient I see that uses sunscreen religiously has very good skin.”

As more Long Islanders head out to enjoy the sun, sand and surf this Memorial Day weekend, Newsday asked dermatologists about some of the misinformation surrounding sunscreen and the most effective ways to protect your family’s skin this summer.

Is there a difference between SPF 30, 50 and 100?

Ultraviolet rays are “an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds and sun lamps” that can damage skin cells, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said that most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV light. The SPF, or sun protection factor, notes how much a sunscreen filters out those rays.

“SPF 30 blocks about 97% of rays, SPF 50 blocks about 98% and SPF 100 blocks about 99%,” Madan said. “If you have very fair skin and you are going to be outdoors for 4, 5, 6 hours, then you might want to use SPF 50 or SPF 100 because it does stay on a little bit longer. Otherwise, if you're applying every two to three hours, SPF 30 should be fine regardless of your skin tone.”

SPF 30 blocks about 97% of rays, SPF 50 blocks...

SPF 30 blocks about 97% of rays, SPF 50 blocks about 98% and SPF 100 blocks about 99%, according to Madan. Credit: iStock / Wavebreak Media LTD

At what age should you start putting sunscreen on a child?

“Babies may start using sunscreen beginning at 6 months of age,” said Dr. Annie Grossberg, division director of Pediatric Dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. “Prior to that time, sunscreen is not recommended.”

Grossberg said babies younger than 6 months should avoid the sun as much as possible, be kept under shade when outdoors and wear a hat and sun-protective clothing.

What kind of sunscreen should be applied to children?

Grossberg said any sunscreen will work as long as it is labeled “broad-spectrum” and has a minimum SPF of 30. If your child will be out in the water, consider one that has water resistance. She explained there are two types of sunscreen, chemical and physical, also known as mineral. Children with sensitive skin might find chemical sunscreens irritating. While a mineral blocker such as zinc oxide might be preferable, they are thick and pasty white. She also thinks lotions and stick sunscreens are better for kids than one from a spray bottle. The children might inhale some of the spray or it might get carried away by the wind and not provide enough coverage. If needed, she said, spray some in your hands and apply it to your child’s skin.

“The best sunscreen is whichever one your child will use,” she said. “They work better on the skin than in the bottle.”

Are sunscreens from Europe and Japan better than those available in the U.S.?

Some people prefer sunscreen from Europe because they have different ingredients, also called “filters,” that are more efficient at blocking UV rays and the formulations go on skin without leaving residue, Madan said. In Europe, sunscreens are considered cosmetics and the approval process is easier than in the United States, where they are classified as nonprescription drugs.

“This doesn’t mean the ones in America are bad, but if I was given the option to choose, I would take the European ones,” he said.

Are people who use too much sunscreen at risk of not getting enough vitamin D?

“I can't imagine the amount of sunscreen you would have to use to be vitamin D deficient,” Madan said. “You can get vitamin D from other sources, not just the sun. But even if you're getting 15 to 20 minutes of sunlight per week, that should be enough vitamin D for your body from the sun. Unless you're someone who every second of every day is covered in sunscreen, head to toe, it's almost impossible for that to happen.”

Can you get a sunburn even if it’s cloudy outside?

Yes, both Madan and Grossberg said.

“Patients and parents are often surprised to hear that I see a lot of sunburns in early spring, before the temperature gets too hot, as well as on days that are overcast, when the temperature may feel more mild,” Grossberg said. “A lot of us can be fooled into thinking we may not need sunscreen or sun-protective clothing on these days … even on overcast days, up to 70 to 80% of harmful ultraviolet rays are getting through that cloud cover.”

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