Breaking down the facts and myths of sunscreen with KU Hospital's Director of Dermatology

KANSAS CITY, Kansas - It seems every summer, someone comes forward with a new theory about what's safe and what isn't when it comes to sunscreen.

That's why 41 Action News sat down with the Director of Dermatology at the University of Kansas Hospital to separate the facts from the myths.

Are some sunscreens harmful to your health?

According to the Environmental Working Group, there are certain ingredients, like oxybenzone, in name brand sunscreens that can be harmful to your health.  But Dr. Daniel Aires says it all depends on how much is absorbed.  Since people apply it on their skin and don't ingest the product, he isn't "aware of any significant dangers posed by sunscreens."

Are there alternatives to sunscreen?

If you are out gardening, fishing or golfing and not going to be in the direct sun for a long period of time, Dr. Aires is a big believer in wearing a hat and gloves.  "There are no toxicities associated with (a hat and gloves) and will protect you without any side effects."

But again, if you are on a beach vacation and your whole body is going to be exposed to the sun, Dr. Aires says sunscreen is a must.

What type of sunscreen should I use for my toddler?

Dr. Aires recommends talking to your pediatrician first especially if your son or daughter has sensitive skin or a rash. 

He says allergies can happen with almost any chemical that goes on the skin and unfortunately, you can only learn which brand works and which doesn't by trying them out.

Are there any ingredients people should avoid?

If you are pregnant, Dr. Aires recommends talking to you OBGYN first but he recommends avoiding any sunscreen with retinol.

He said he is also nervous about micronized titanium when it has nano particles because it can stay in your body for a long time.  But he says there is no conclusive research on whether it is harmful or not. 

Can you walk out the door without sunscreen during the summer?

"Melanoma and sunburns are very dangerous so using sunscreen is smart.  But on the other hand do we need to slather up every single toddler several times a day?  Probably not.   Kids played outside for years and very seldom got sunburns.  If (you are outside) all day in the direct sun then yes.  If it's just a few minutes maybe not.  It's a balance.  There is no hard and fast rule.  You just have to be smart about it," said Dr. Aires.

Should you look on the side of your sunscreen bottle?

Absolutely.  Dr. Aires says the more people take control of the product in their lives the better.  If you are concerned, look the ingredients up online.  If there are people talking about reactions to those ingredients, you might want to consider buying another product.

What sunscreen would Dr. Aires recommend?

Good old fashion zinc.  It's white and will turn your skin chalky, but it works. 

What SPF should you buy?

Dr. Aires says the higher the better.  When sunscreens are tested they are slapped on the skin in a very thick layer which means you have to apply it in a very thick layer to work.

So when you apply an SPF 15 on your face, Dr. Aires says it's more like you are applying an SPF 3.

What does the SPF mean?

In theory, if you would've burned after 10 minutes without a sunscreen and you apply SPF 30, you can now stay out for 300 minutes or 5 hours.  But Dr. Aires says practically speaking that's just not the case. 

He says sunscreens tend to lose strength over time.  That's why he recommends re-applying every one to two hours.

Can the sun be good for you?

Dr. Aires says as long as you don't burn, getting a little sun can be a good thing.  Alternatively, you can take a Vitamin D3 pill.  It helps keep your bones strong, fend of cancers and fight certain diseases like Multiple Scelorsis.  But he says to talk to your doctor first.  People with kidney stones and other conditions shouldn't take Vitamin D.

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