You’re sun-savvy when it comes to skin protection. After all, you’re reading this, aren’t you? And although summer has come to an end, you know the sun’s rays haven’t stopped shining. You also know that sunscreen with an adequate SPF will help shield your skin from UVA and UVB rays that can damage skin. And you’re well aware that sunscreen can help prevent sun spots and premature aging.1 So, you diligently slather on a high SPF sunscreen before you hit the beach. Maybe you’ve even incorporated it into your morning routine. But even sun-smart people can make sunscreen mistakes. Here are eight of the most common ones:
1. You Think a Little Dab’ll Do Ya
Less is more, except in the case of sunscreen. People under-apply sunscreen. By a lot. Most people apply about a quarter to a half of the amount they need to reach the SPF (sun protection factor) listed on the bottle. In other words, if you bought an SPF 30, but you aren’t using enough – you’re really only getting an SPF 10 or 15.2 To make sure you’re reaching the SPF listed on your sunscreen, here’s a good rule of thumb: use a nickel’s worth of sunscreen on your face and a shot glass’ worth on your body. But keep in mind that bodies come in a range of sizes, so adjust accordingly. For added protection, apply in thin layers, allowing each layer to dry in between. In doubt about how much to use? Use more!
2. You Put It On in the Morning … And Don’t Think About It Again
So, you rub on a healthy amount of high SPF sunscreen in the morning before heading out for the day. You play a game of tennis, have lunch with a friend on a cafe patio, then take your dog for a leisurely afternoon stroll. But there’s a good chance that sunscreen didn’t make it past that tennis game and the SPF is now nil. That’s because sunscreen wears off after a few hours. The truth is–has to be re-applied. No matter the SPF. No matter the amount you put on in the first place. In fact, experts recommend reapplying sunscreen every two to three hours.3 And keep in mind that sunscreen wears off even faster if you’re sweating or swimming. So if you’ve been cooling down in the pool or doing some laps, be sure to put on more sunscreen after you’ve toweled off. And if you’re sweating, try to re-apply every hour.4 It may seem like a lot, but diligent re-application will help you get the most protection out of your sunscreen.
3. You Put It On Too Late
You’re relaxing at the beach and it dawns on you: you forgot to put on sunscreen. You grab a tube from your beach tote and slather on. This is great! But it’s best to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you get into the sun. You see, sunscreens often need time to activate before they’re ready to do the hard work of protecting your skin from UVA and UVB rays. So if you step out into the sun immediately after sunscreen application – there’s a good chance your skin won’t be blocking out any UVA or UVB rays for another 30 minutes. So think ahead! Rub some in while you’re getting ready for the day. And by the time you step outside – you’ll be in good shape.
4. You’re Not Reading the Label
We generally check a sunscreen’s SPF before we buy. But sometimes we forget to check for “broad spectrum” on the label. Without a broad spectrum defense, our skin won’t get adequate protection–that’s because broad spectrum sunscreens guard your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep beneath the skin and UVB rays cause sunburns on the surface of the skin. Both types of rays speed up the aging process and increase the risk of skin cancer. Luckily, most sunscreens these days are broad spectrum, but it’s not guaranteed–so take the time to double-check. And if you’re relying solely on a moisturizer or foundation with SPF as your main source of defense, you’re likely not getting UVA protection. So make sure you’re also using a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
5. You Skip It When You’re Not in Direct Sunlight
We know all the reasons that make forgoing sunscreen seem like a reasonable idea: You’re only running a few errands. You’ll just be in your car. It’s overcast. It’s only March. But it only takes five minutes in the sun for it to start damaging your skin. And unfortunately, UV rays have no problem penetrating through car windows. As for clouds, haze, and fog? They won’t stop sunburns OR keep destructive rays from reaching the skin, either.5
6. Missing Spots
When you think about applying sunscreen, where do you think about applying it? Your face, right? Well, that’s a great start. But there’s a good chance you’re neglecting some areas. Some of the most commonly neglected areas are the ears, lips, the back of the neck and the backs of hands. Some other areas we forget about? The backs of legs (if you wear shorts), the tops of feet, your hairline, and the part in your hair. Just how do you apply sunscreen to your part? Spritz a little spray sunscreen on a foam makeup wedge and pat it on. Your scalp will thank you.
7. You Haven’t Checked The Expiration Date Recently
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that sunscreens retain their full strength for three years. After three years, there’s no guarantee your sunscreen will maintain its labeled SPF and it may not be as successful at protecting you from the rays that may cause skin cancer. Keep in mind that how you store the sunscreen can affect how well it does its job. An open container can attract germs, and storing sunscreen in hot places–like the trunk of your car or the glove compartment–may its reduce effectiveness.
8. You Figure You Don’t Need It Since You Have Darker Skin
It can be easy to forget about sun protection with darker skin – it’s much less prone to burning. But that doesn’t mean the sun isn’t hurting your skin, and putting you at greater risk for skin cancer. And because the signs of skin damage are less obvious on darker skin, it can delay the detection of skin cancer and necessary treatment.6 If you have darker skin, you may have a natural SPF of between 5 and 8. It’s a good start, but adding an SPF of at least 25 will help you get real protection and help prevent the risk of skin cancer. So, if the need for sun protection seems less obvious for you, go ahead and put that bottle of sunscreen in a prominent place so that you don’t forget to apply it regularly.
If you’re concerned about the possibility of skin cancer, make sure to see a board certified dermatologist who can help. Meanwhile, remember that even sticklers for sunscreen can make these sunscreen mistakes. So, whether you’re planning to spend the day outside or just making a quick trip to the store – make sure you’re getting adequate protection. Using sunscreen the right way can help protect you against skin cancer and prevent premature aging.
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