- When it comes to sunscreen application, there are plenty of mistakes to avoid to ensure you’re protecting your skin.
- Reapplication throughout the day is highly recommended by dermatologists.
- Aim for products that are at least SPF 30 and higher.
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Despite the overwhelming body of research that proves just how dangerous too much sun exposure can be, far too many of us aren’t wearing sunscreen daily, increasing our risk for sunburn and several types of skin cancer … all of which is largely preventable if you’re properly protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
Whether you’re enjoying the summertime sun or simply sitting in the car for long periods of time, you absolutely need to wear sunscreen every day, no matter what the weather forecast predicts.
Your skin is at risk even on cloudy, cool, and windy days, so the easiest and most foolproof way to lessen your risk of skin cancer is by wearing sunscreen. But just because you’re slapping some SPF on doesn’t mean you automatically get a gold star and a pat on the back.
From not using a high enough SPF to enjoying margaritas poolside, you’re likely doing some things that are inadvertently making your sunscreen less effective, which can lead to dangerous sun exposure you didn’t even realise you’ve been getting.
Here are the 12 most unexpected things that could be making your sunscreen less effective and how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to keeping your skin safe and healthy.
You’re not using it every single day.
You need to wear sunscreen every single day, in every single season, no matter what the weather forecast says or if you’re not spending the day outside. The sun emits two types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation which cause genetic mutations and damage to DNA, leading to skin cancer. But you’re exposed to these UV rays every time you step outside, even when it’s cloudy, cold, or windy out.
Sun damage can happen in any weather condition, which is why skiers wear goggles to protect their eyes from snow blindness, because fresh snow is also a powerful source of UV radiation.
Because it can pass through even the thickest of clouds and through your car or office windows, the only surefire way to protect your skin is by wearing sunscreen every single day, even when you’re miles from the nearest beach.
You’re not applying enough sunscreen.
So you’ve heeded our advice and wear sunscreen every day. It’s a great start, but you must ask yourself if you’re applying enough.
There’s no such thing as too much sunscreen, so you’ll want to be very generous in your application … especially if you are planning any outdoor activities.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using about an ounce of sunscreen (the size of a standard shot glass) for your body, liberally covering all exposed skin. Experts recommend a quarter-size amount for your face, though this all depends on your body size. The more, the merrier, when it comes to sun protection, so when in doubt, add more.
You apply it, but never reapply.
OK, so you put sunscreen on, thinking you’re done for the day and your skin is protected. Wrong, say dermatologists, who recommend reapplying at least every two hours if you’re in direct sunlight, and more often if you’re swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen, only water-resistant, so even sunscreens with the highest SPFs need to be applied routinely in order to maximise effectiveness.
“If you’re in the sun, your sunscreen is good for a max of two hours, and depending on the sunscreen it might not even last that long,” explained Lisa Garner, a Texas-based dermatologist, who told HuffPost that when our skin absorbs our sunscreen, it “uses up” the active ingredients that are protecting skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
This happens even faster when you’re swimming or sweating, so be sure to constantly reapply, giving skin enough time to absorb before you head back into the water.
As for days when you’re mostly inside at home or at work or aren’t enjoying any outdoor activities, you should still touch up, choosing a cosmetic-based powder or mineral sunscreens, or moisturizers and lotions that have a solid amount of SPF in them, before you see any sun exposure.
You’re applying it over your makeup.
The good news is, you don’t have to let sun protection get in the way of your beauty routine, because these days, there are no shortage of lightweight options that won’t make skin look or feel chalky or greasy.
But if you are putting on makeup, you’ll want to be sure that you’re adding sunscreen in the right way, so that your makeup doesn’t interfere with getting the most protection possible.
You’ll want to apply sunscreen before any other beauty products to a clean, dry face, making sure to hit oft-forgotten areas, like your hairline and jawline. Heidi Waldorf, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, explained the best way to get full coverage to Allure magazine, saying, “One of the reasons that the top of the forehead – near the hairline and the sides of the cheeks, jawline, and neck – get more sun is because everyone starts their sunscreen [application] in the middle of the face and neck. Be sure to apply – and reapply – to those areas. Extra sun damage tends to occur on the upper cheekbones, too.”
And if you’re using products with SPF in them, great, but you still need a foundation of actual sunscreen beneath them.
For midday touch-ups, beauty experts recommend powder-based formulas or setting sprays with SPF in them that can be quickly applied over your makeup, giving you protection no matter where your day takes you.
You’re waiting until you’re already outside to apply.
As we mentioned before, it takes even sunscreens with high SPF time to fully absorb into your skin, so if you’re applying it when you’re already sitting on that lounge chair, it’s too late.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before even stepping outside to get the most protection. If you’re putting it on when you’re already in the sun, your skin is already exposed, and could potentially burn.
The best time to slather it on is right before you put on your swimsuit so you can be sure to get any areas normally covered by your swimsuit, which still need to be protected even if they’re not seeing the sunlight. Clothing doesn’t contain adequate SPF, though it does help.
You’re not doubling down.
That said, every little bit of sun protection helps, so staying covered in lightweight, breathable fabrics after you’ve applied sunscreen is the best way to get the most protection. Wearing hats, sunglasses, and clothing designed for sun protection is a great added bonus to your SPF, and staying in the shade, out of the sun’s direct path, helps, too.
You’re using expired products.
Like any other skincare product, sunscreen does expire, and if you’re using it past the expiration date, you’re probably not getting the full benefits.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic note that sunscreens are usually good for up to three years, but if the contents of your bottle have a weird smell, colour, or consistency, you’ll want to toss it before then.
“It’s not that the active ingredients in sunscreen start to deactivate once they’re expired – they just start to break down,” said dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, who explained to Refinery29 that simply applying more of an expired bottle won’t do anything to “add” to your level of protection. “You don’t know exactly what the SPF is once sunscreens are expired, so you’re just putting yourself at an unnecessary risk,” said Dr. Frank.
Most bottles have an expiration date on them, but if yours doesn’t, you can add a piece of tape with the date you purchased it, so you’ll know when it’s time to toss it. But if you’re regularly applying enough, you’ll run out of your bottle well before it comes close to expiring.
You’re not storing it properly.
One of the major problems people don’t even realise that is destroying their SPF is the way they’re storing the bottle, which means you don’t want to keep it in the bottom of your beach bag as it sits in the sun all day.
“Keeping sunscreen in the heat and exposing it to light will cause it to break down faster,” says cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Fredric S. Brandt, who explained why this is to Refinery29. “When sunscreen is stored in a high temperature, the effectiveness decreases, and the sunscreen becomes less stable and reliable. When it gets hot or is stored above 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the potency is destroyed, and the sunscreen will degrade.”
Your SPF isn’t high enough to adequately protect you.
There’s a solid reason why sunscreens have varying levels of SPF, so just as you need to regularly and dutifully apply and reapply, you’ll want to go for products labelled at least SPF 30 … though higher SPF sunscreen is better than its lower number counterparts.
Joshua Zeichner MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City explained to Allure magazine that “a product with an SPF 30 means that you get the same amount of sun exposure after 30 minutes outside as you would get if you were unprotected outdoors for one minute.”
Sejal Shah, a dermatologist in New York City, added, “SPF 15 protects against 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 protects against 97%, and SPF 50 is about 98%.”
And while no sunscreen is 100% effective, the more you wear of a higher SPF can only help protect you from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays. A recent study of 199 men and women published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology compared the level of protection provided by SPF 100+ and SPF 50+ sunscreens by having each participant cover half their face in the respective products, spending the day in natural sunlight.
By day’s end, 55% of participants were more sunburned on the side of their face wearing SPF 50 side than on the SPF 100 side.
You’re missing key spots.
Even if you’re generous with how you apply sunscreen, there’s probably a good chance you’re not fully covering several important body parts, thus exposing them to sun damage.
Commonly forgotten areas include the eyelids, ears, lips, and bottoms of your feet, so you’ll want to be extra sure you’ve gotten those too. Also, you’ll want to protect your hair and scalp, using protective products designed to keep hair colour from fading, strands from drying, and skin from burning.
You’re not checking the medicine cabinet.
Unfortunately, lots of commonly used medications can increase your sensitivity to the sun, and you may not even realise it.
Some examples of sun-sensitizing drugs include prescription acne medications like doxycycline, minocycline, and isotretinoin (commonly known as Accutane) as well as over-the-counter topical acne products like benzoyl peroxide and retinol, antidepressants including prescribed and herbal remedies, and antihistamines (like Benadryl), can all cause photosensitivity, so you’ll want to check with your doctor if you’re unsure … all the more reason to take extra caution with your skin in the sun.
You’re enjoying plenty of poolside margaritas.
Even though few things sound better than enjoying a couple of ice-cold cocktails in the blazing summer sun, alcohol and the sunreally don’t mix.
Aside from putting you at risk for dehydration and heatstroke, few of us are able to remember to dutifully reapply sunscreen when we’re a few cocktails deep, so your risk of burning increases as the day goes on.
Plus, both lime and lemon juice, commonly added to your favourite warm weather cocktails, can cause a chemical reaction when on your skin, a condition known as “margarita dermatitis,” which happens when the citrus mixes with sunlight and burns your skin. Skin can blister and burn, a reaction that is both painful and dangerous … not exactly a recipe for a great day at the beach.
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