By now, most of us have heard a thing or two about the importance of wearing sunscreen. Whether or not we like slathering it on, sunscreen acts as a protective shield against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can sear and age the skin as well as lead to various types of skin cancer. That said, the mere act of applying sunscreen is not enough to keep your skin healthy and beautiful -- there is indeed a right way and wrong way to approach sunscreen application. Most of us are guilty of making some (or all) of the following sunscreen mistakes, which is why it’s important to maintain awareness of them and adjust your behavior accordingly.
Here are the common sunscreen mistakes you should avoid, and why.
It’s tempting to think that the sun’s rays only reach us when we’re outside, but our skin can still experience sun damage indoors. If you’re near windows, for instance, the light will shine through. Indeed, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology discovered that in the U.S. upwards of 50% of melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma took place on one’s left side, which is the side primarily exposed to sunlight when driving (in the states, anyway). As such, you should apply sunscreen daily, even if you don’t plan on setting foot outdoors.
This mistake is closely related to the previous one. Sure, you’re more likely to experience visible sun damaged skin in the summer, especially if you spend a lot of time outside. Still, while it’s true that summer is hotter and features more sunlight compared to other seasons, it’s not as if the sun’s energy disappears during the colder months. Even on the cloudiest, coldest days of the year, some of the sun’s rays poke through and reach our skin. So, whether it’s July or January, remember to wear sunscreen.
Another common mistake is not applying enough sunscreen at a given time. No one wants to look like a bagel with cream cheese, but failing to apply the proper amount of sunscreen won’t yield the protection your skin needs. Experts recommend that a squirt the size of a golf ball is typically sufficient to cover one’s entire body. If this seems like a lot, then you haven’t been using enough.
The “one and done” mindset is another all-too-common pitfall regarding sunscreen. Even if you use the most effective sunscreen on the market, its effects will only last so long. Generally speaking, you should reapply your sunscreen about every two hours. Once again, if this seems excessive, you’ve been leaving your skin open to the sun’s negative effects.
Most sunscreens are relatively cheap, but most of us enjoy saving money and don’t want to waste what we have, which is why it’s also common for people to hang on tightly to their sunscreen even if it is well past its expiration date. The shelf life of a given product can vary, but the chemicals will eventually become inactive, especially if the product is not properly sealed or stored (if it’s been sitting in your hot car for months, it won’t do you any favors). Most sunscreens display their expiration date on their packaging, so pay attention and don’t bother using a product beyond its marked date.
All sunscreens are not created equal. One of the major differentiating factors between products is the Sun Protection Factor (SPF), a measurement of the amount of solar radiation needed to burn one’s protected skin relative to the amount needed to burn one’s unprotected skin. In other words, the higher the SPF, the better (to an extent). According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, people should shoot for products boasting an SPF of 30-50. There are products out there that offer SPFs as high as 90, but anything above 50 SPF won’t offer substantially more protection.
Some individuals prefer spray-on sunscreens as opposed to creams, but merely spraying your skin with sunscreen might not give you the proper amount of protection (plus, inhaling these products may pose health risks). If you’re going to use a spray sunscreen, dermatologists recommend first spraying some into your hand and then rubbing it on your skin. Simply misting yourself probably isn’t effective.
We’ve got plenty of skin, and it’s easy to forget about certain spots like our ears, lips, backs of our necks, etc. Unfortunately, our skin can get burnt and develop skin cancer in any exposed area, which is why it’s crucial to fully coat your body. If you’re alone, it might help to apply sunscreen in front of a mirror to ensure you don’t miss any spots. Or, if you’re with someone you trust, have them help you screen up, especially if you can’t easily reach your own back or other areas.
Those with fair skin are at greater risk of sun damage and skin cancer than those with darker complexions. This is because melanin, the polymer responsible for giving skin its color, acts as a shield against the sun. However, this doesn’t mean that those with less melanin are alone in thinking about skin cancer prevention. In fact, some people with darker skin might feel a false sense of security when exposed to the sun, putting them at greater risk. The bottom line is this: no matter how light or dark your skin is, remember to wear sunscreen.
Are you guilty of making any of these common sunscreen mistakes? If so, you’re not alone. The point of making mistakes is to learn from them. So, maybe now you’ll improve your sunscreen strategy and better protect your skin as a result. The experts at Premier Dermatology Partners can fill you in on the best sunscreen products out there and give you additional advice on best practices for sunscreen application. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.