RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — In North Carolina, it can be very challenging to protect yourself from the sun, especially at midday in the middle of the summer.
Sunscreen is the solution — but there are so many different types, grades and styles of sunblock that just choosing what kind to get becomes a puzzle. Is the highest grade SPF better? Should you buy special sunscreen just for kids? Are more expensive sunscreens better than inexpensive ones?
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions when it comes to sunscreen, but despite the confusion, sunscreens are more necessary than ever.
That’s because doctors say skin cancers are on the rise here in North Carolina, across all populations and skin types.
“The baby boomers were the first generation to intentionally tan for huge portions of their life, and we’re seeing that catch up with them now,” explains Dr. Matilda Nicholas, who works as a Dermatologic Surgeon at Duke Health.
Subsequent generations are now more careful when it comes to sun exposure.
“We are all very fair skinned, so the more that I apply, the more protected we are,’’ says Molly Stillman, the mother of two young children who she makes sure are always covered in sunscreen.
Sunscreens are rated by SPF, or sun protection factor levels. Doctors say a sunscreen of SPF 15 is really too weak, while sunscreen rated at SPF 45 is considered overkill. Dr. Nicholas says sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is just right.
“Once you get over SPF 30 with sunscreen, often times it’s going to wear off your skin before the extra SPF really kicks in,” she says.
Dr. Nicholas says the biggest mistake most folks make with sunscreen is not using enough. “It usually takes a golf ball sized amount of sunscreen to apply to your body to get good SPF, she says. “In general people only apply 1/3 of what’s used in SPF testing. That’s way less than is intended.”
And no matter what, you need to apply sunscreen every two hours, because it wears off as a result of swimming or even just sweating.
Dermatologists say there are two different kinds of active ingredients in sunscreen that blocks the sun’s ultraviolet rays. “The best active ingredient is Zinc Oxide. It reflects UV rather than absorbing it,” says Dr. Nicholas.
Sunscreen that have active ingredients which have long chemical names are OK too, but they work differently, absorbing the sun’s harmful rays instead of reflecting them.
One thing we wanted to know: is there a difference between high priced brands and inexpensive sunscreens.
Dr. Nicholas says “the active ingredient is no different, so the effect of that should be no different.” She says the FDA regulators ensure that regardless of cost, you’re getting the SPF protection that’s advertised.
However, she says, the less expensive brands may not have the same feel on your skin as more pricey sunscreens. The cheaper brands “may feel greasier or not absorb as well as the more expensive brands.”
That also goes for specialty branded sunscreens like those that say they’re made for just kids. Chances are they have the same active ingredients as the adult sunscreens, but are just priced differently. Dr. Nichols says to check the listings of active ingredients side-by-side to see if that’s the case.
“There are many times you have to the same formulations,” she said. “One is for babies and one is not. The one for the baby may be more expensive.”
Experts also say it’s best to get into the sunscreen habit at an early age. 7-year-old Clayton Staley already knows about the benefits of sunscreen.
“It protects you from the sun and you should wear it out all day,” said the youngster.
When it comes to sunscreen, there’s a lot to absorb besides the harmful rays of the sun. For more information on how to protect yourself out there, visit this link to an FDA report on sunscreens, or this list of sunscreen FAQs from the American Academy of Dermatology.
Email CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.