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A false sense of sun security

The sun is peeking from behind the clouds; the weather’s warming up; and many are ready for the sultry days of summer.

More time outside comes with more exposure to harmful UV rays. With all the sunscreen options on store shelves, picking the correct one (and following the instructions) can be confusing.

Spending time in the beautiful outdoors is one of the splendid pleasures of summer, but UV rays can harm your skin in as little as 15 minutes. So time spent applying sunscreen (correctly) and shading yourself is time well spent.

Enter Dr. Shannon Trotter, a dermatologist and skin cancer expert at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

Trotter shines a light on some sunscreen myths. From “sunburn pills” to SPF numbers, she has scientifically sound suggestions to those looking to soak up the rays.

Slather on sunscreen

There is no shortcut when it comes to sunscreen or the amount that you should apply. A higher SPF number does not mean you can skimp on the application.

“Some people mistakenly buy sunscreen with a higher SPF number, and then use less of it thinking they are adequately protected,” she said. “Don’t fool yourself when you’re buying SPF 50 and above, thinking that you can be out longer and don’t need to reapply every two hours.”

The SPF, or sun protection factor, is a laboratory measure of the effectiveness of sunscreen — the higher the SPF, the more protection a sunscreen offers against UV-B, which is the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn.

But SPF numbers can be deceiving, Trotter said. An SPF 15 blocks about 93 percent of harmful sun rays, and SPF 30 blocks about 97 percent, so buying higher numbers doesn’t necessarily mean that much more protection.

Cover up — correctly

All clothing colors are not created equal. While they might make the wearer feel hotter, darker colors are better at absorbing UV rays than lighter ones.

“Darker shades, such as red or black, can increase your sun protection because they absorb ultraviolet light,” Trotter said. A white T-shirt, on the other hand, has an SPF less than 15 and offers less protection.

A sunburn pill?

While it may sound a bit farfetched, Trotter said that extensive research is underway to develop a true “sunburn pill.” But the pills on the market today are supplements, not drugs, and they’re not regulated by the FDA in the same way, say, blood pressure medication is regulated.

“While some products have undergone some testing and have shown promise, talk to your doctor before using them,” Trotter said, adding that there is no evidence that pills alone offer sufficient protection from the sun’s damaging rays. In addition, these pills might interfere with other medications a person is taking.

Other things to consider? Wet clothing doesn’t protect as well as dry. Tightly woven fabric provides better protection than looser fabrics. And if you’ll be sporting a hat, wear one with a brim that shades your face, ears and the back of your neck.