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10 Summer Sunscreen Mistakes You’ve Probably Made

Posted on 26 May 2015

summer sunscreen mistakes

It’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to sunscreen that can be costly for you and your family’s skin. Here are ten of the most common mistakes.

Even with the best intentions, it’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to sunscreen - mistakes that can be costly for you and your family’s skin. So now that summer is almost upon us, here are ten of the most common mistakes.

FYI: SPF, which stands for sun protection factor, applies only to the sunburn-causing UVB rays, so you'll need to look for the words "broad spectrum" on the sunscreen bottle to also address the skin-damaging UVA rays.

1. You Don’t Wear Any

The most obvious sunscreen mistake is not wearing any. By now, we all know spending too much time in the sun can increase risk for both skin cancer (the most common of all cancers) and premature skin aging. On top of that, a daily sunscreen use could slow skin aging.

2. You've Been Using The Same Bottle For The Past Three Summers

When it comes to sunscreen, expiration dates really do matter. The active ingredients in sunscreen deteriorate over time, which means the protection won't be as effective. What's more, an open bottle is more likely to become contaminated with germs over time, as the preservatives in sunscreen can also lose their efficacy.

3. Where You Store Your Sunscreen

You might want to read the suggested storage conditions on the label, too. Putting your bottle in a glove compartment or a beach bag in the trunk might be convenient, but exposure to hot temperatures will degrade the active ingredients.

4. You Only Use A Dab

When it comes to sunscreen, less is not more. But in the real world many of us don't use enough. The classic rule of thumb is to slather on about a shot glass full of sunscreen to cover the whole body. The problem with that advice is that a 110-pound woman is going to have less surface area than, say, a 250-pound man. Use enough to evenly cover the skin and massage it in, and be systematic about it.

When in doubt, slather more on: experts agree there's no such thing as too much.

5. Ladies: You Rely on the SPF In Your Makeup To Do The Trick

A two-in-one foundation with sunscreen certainly seems handy, but that doesn't mean it works. Part of the problem is quantity: a dab of foundation doesn’t have the same amount of sunscreen as a sunscreen lotion that you'd put on your face. Makeup also wears off during the day, and chances are you aren't re-applying the way you should with sunscreen.

The good news? Moisturizer with SPF does do the trick.

6. You Put Your Sunscreen On At The Beginning Of The Day And Forget About It

If you're in the sun, your sunscreen is good for a maximum of two hours, and depending on the sunscreen it might not even last that long. The skin literally "uses up" the active ingredients in the lotion over time. Sweating and swimming causes the sunscreen to wear off even faster, so consider reapplying every hour in those conditions. And be sure to let the reapplied sunscreen soak into the skin for a few minutes before diving back into the water, otherwise it'll wash right off.

7. You Count On Waterproof Sunscreen When You're Swimming

Turns out, there’s no such a thing as "waterproof" sunscreen. In fact, recent FDA rules no longer allow the word to be used on sunscreen bottles (along with "sweat-proof" or "sunblock"). Instead, based on testing, they can claim to be "water resistant" for either 40 or 80 minutes. After that? Reapply, reapply, reapply.

8. You Only Apply Sunscreen On Sunny Days

Just because you can't see the sun doesn't mean it's not doing damage. UV penetrates through haze and fog and you can easily get a sunburn. UV radiation is invisible: you can't smell, taste, hear, or see it. And that means it doesn't necessarily need to be warm or sunny to cause some real damage, whether or not you see it.

UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and are a culprit in skin aging, in particular, can reach the skin even through thick clouds, and the glass of your house windows and car.

9. You Purchase The Highest SPF Possible

Many skin experts recommend using a sunscreen that carries an SPF of at least 30. So does that mean SPF 60 is twice as protective, or lasts twice as long? No, according to the experts.

An SPF of 30, when applied in the appropriate amount, will block out about 96 percent of the sunburn-causing UVB rays from the sun. As you go up from there, you only see a very small difference: about 98 percent with SPF 50 and still under 99 percent with SPF 75. And there's no way to block out 100 percent of the sun's rays with sunscreen.

If you want with those extra couple of percentage points, go for it. But the same rules for reapplication and how long you can be in the sun apply.

10. You Count On Sunscreen For Total Sun Protection

Your sunscreen can't block out 100 percent of the sun's UVB rays, and it shouldn't be your only defense against sun damage. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sun protective clothing and avoiding the sun during the most intense hours: between 10:00am – 2:00pm.

Remember, too, that sunscreen isn't a free pass to spend the day baking in the sun. Sunscreen should be used to protect you when you have to be in the sun during the intense part of the day. And remember, tanned skin is damaged skin.


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