Merck Manuals Survey: Americans Confused about Sun Protection

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 Lifestyle News J E 4
Dermatologist Debunks Common Myths to Help Increase Preparation for Summer Sun

KENILWORTH, N.J., May 25, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- While the dangers of sun exposure have become widely acknowledged and publicized in recent years, sunburn continues to be an all too common summer ailment. In fact, a survey released today from Merck Manuals revealed that 88 percent of Americans have experienced sunburn, with 71 percent reporting they've had moderate/severe sunburn with symptoms ranging from swollen skin to blisters and nausea.

The recent survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Merck Manuals also found that many Americans fall victim to common sun protection "myths" related to sunscreen, the protective value of clothing, and other factors that can affect skin's reaction to the sun. 

To combat confusion about protecting your skin from the sun, this week Dr. Karen McKoy of the Lahey Clinic Medical Center's Department of Dermatology has identified and debunked five common summer skin myths on

Myth #1: SPF 30 sunscreen is twice as protective as SPF 15.

Reality: Sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 blocks about 93 percent of the sun's rays. SPF 30 blocks about 97 percent, but nearly half (44 percent) of Americans believe SPF 30 sunscreen is twice as protective as SPF 15.

The level of increased protection becomes insignificant after SPF 30. In fact, sunscreens that have higher SPFs and include many more chemicals can pose hazards such as allergic reactions and tissue damage. Lotions with additional chemicals can also be more environmentally damaging when they wash into the water supply.

Myth #2:  A higher SPF will protect your skin longer.

Reality: Higher SPF levels don't protect you from the sun for longer periods of time, yet 44 percent of Americans fall victim to this myth. People may be more likely to stay in the sun longer if they believe they're better protected.

For prolonged protection, re-apply sunscreen every 1.5 to 2 hours. Wear loose, ventilated clothing covering most of your body, and stay out of the sun during the periods of high exposure in the late morning and early afternoon. A good rule of thumb: If your shadow is shorter than you are, you're at high risk of sunburn.

Myth #3: What you eat has no effect on how your body reacts to sun exposure.

Reality: Contact with compounds in certain plants, such as limes, can lead to Phytophotodermatitis, also known as Lime Disease. It's an itchy, painful blister rash that worsens after ultraviolet light is exposed to skin that has come in contact with the plant compound. Lime juice is the most common cause, but celery, lemons, carrots and parsley also contain the compound.

Close to one in three (32 percent) Americans believe that what you eat has no effect on preventing sunburn, but this rash is just one example of how UV light can trigger painful reactions. Learn more about photosensitivity reactions on

Myth #4: Spending time in the sun is important for getting enough Vitamin D.

Reality: Vitamin D is important to your health, and nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of Americans believe that spending time in the sun is an important way to get enough of it. But you shouldn't risk sunburn or skin cancer to get your daily dose. Instead, take a supplement and make sure you're eating enough fortified foods – cereals and dairy products – that are rich in Vitamin D.

Myth #5:  Wearing a T-shirt in the water is an effective way to shield your skin from the sun.

Reality: Although nearly one in three (30 percent) Americans believe a cotton t-shirt will protect their skin in the water from sunburn, a wet T-shirt actually does virtually nothing to shield you from UV rays. If you want to wear clothing into the water, consider a more tightly-woven garment and make sure you're also wearing sunscreen underneath it.

Baseball caps also offer less protection than you may think. While they can help protect your forehead and nose, baseball caps fail to protect your ears and neck. Hats that offer the most effective protection from the sun have seven centimeter brims that cover or shade the entire head.

Dr. McKoy is the Merck Manuals Editorial Board member for Dermatology and author of the Manuals' section on acne and related disorders.

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of the Merck Manuals from April 29May 3, 2016 among 2,015 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Jamie Kloss at

About The Merck Manuals and MSD Manuals

First published in 1899 as a small reference book for physicians and pharmacists, The Merck Manual grew in size and scope to become one of the world's most widely used comprehensive medical resources for professionals and consumers. As The Manual evolved, it continually expanded the reach and depth of its offerings to reflect the mission of providing the best medical information to a wide cross-section of users, including medical professionals and students, veterinarians and veterinary students, and consumers. In 2015, The Merck Manual and MSD Manual kicked off Global Medical Knowledge 2020, a program to make the best current medical information accessible by up to three billion professionals and patients around the world by 2020. For access to thousands of medical topics with images, videos and a constantly expanding set of resources, visit or and connect with us on social media: 

For Consumers in the U.S. and its territories: Twitter and Facebook For Professionals in the U.S. and its territories: Twitter and Facebook

About Merck

Today's Merck is a global health care leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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SOURCE The Merck Manuals



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