Are You Making These Common Sunscreen Mistakes?

About 1 in 5 people in the U.S. will develop skin cancer by the time they turn 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And there are more skin cancer diagnoses each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. But the most unfortunate part is many of these cases could be prevented with proper sun protection.

Are you protecting your skin by using sunscreen correctly? Here are 11 common sunscreen mistakes — and how to solve them.

1. Not using enough

You pat yourself on the back for remembering sunscreen (make sure someone helps you cover any hard-to-reach areas back there), but are you sure you used enough? “Most people only apply 25-50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology. “However, to fully cover their body, most adults need about one ounce of sunscreen — or enough to fill a shot glass.” You need enough to cover all your exposed skin, so don’t be stingy with how much you squeeze out of the bottle.

2. Overestimating the SPF

SPF indicates how long it will take your skin to redden in the sun with sunscreen versus without it. “So ideally, with SPF 30 it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Experts generally recommend sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher, though that can vary based on health issues, sun exposure and more. But if you use a higher SPF, it’s important not to overestimate it. “In real life, products with very high SPFs often create a false sense of security,” the Skin Cancer Foundation says. “People who use them tend to stay out in the sun much longer. They may skip reapplying. And they may think they don’t need to seek shade, wear a hat or cover up with clothing. They end up getting a lot more UV damage.”

3. Waiting to apply

A mother applying sunscreen on to her son's back at the beachCredit: ydinmutlu/Getty Images

Maybe you’re in such a rush to get out of the house that you skip lathering up, promising yourself you’ll apply sunscreen once you reach your destination. Or you assume you won’t be outside long enough to necessitate sunscreen. But that’s unnecessarily putting your skin at risk. “It’s easy to think that if they’re out for short time, sunscreen isn’t necessary,” Cleveland Clinic says. “But it’s still exposure, and depending on the time of day, you can get a sunburn in very little time.” Plus, you need time for the sunscreen’s protective ingredients to bind to your skin before you go out. That’s why experts recommend applying it roughly 30 minutes prior to being in the sun.

4. Not reapplying

Just like waiting to apply sunscreen until after your skin already has been exposed, not reapplying at appropriate intervals also puts your skin at risk. “If you are out for more than an hour and a half or two hours, reapply,” according to Cleveland Clinic. “If you go swimming you should reapply every time you get out of the water. Reapply more frequently if you are sweating a lot as well.” And again, don’t assume that a high SPF or even a product that claims it should last all day will allow you to skip reapplying.

5. Only applying in sunny weather

The American Academy of Dermatology found that only 20 percent of Americans use sunscreen when it’s cloudy outside. But your skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in any weather. “Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate your skin,” the academy says. So it’s important to get in the habit of putting on sunscreen every time you’ll be outside, regardless of the time of year.

6. Forgetting to cover critical spots

Even if you apply sunscreen when you should, you still have to make sure you’re hitting all the necessary spots. And there are some key places people often forget to cover. Cleveland Clinic specifically lists the ears, eyelids, lips, tops of feet and scalp. In addition, Healthline says “your earlobes, backs of hands, neck, and chest will get their fair share of sun damage.” Some of these areas might need more frequent reapplication than the rest of your body. For instance, if you eat or drink something, you’ll likely have to reapply sun protection to your lips. Or if you wash your hands, it’s ideal to hit them with some more lotion.

7. Overlooking label instructions

sunscreen bottle sitting in sand on a beachCredit: georgeclerk/Getty Images

You can’t just pick any old sunscreen off the shelf and assume you’re good to go for fun in the sun. The American Academy of Dermatology “recommends looking for sunscreens that are broad-spectrum, water-resistant and have an SPF of 30 or higher.” Broad spectrum means the sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays. And a sunscreen that’s water resistant should give you some guidelines for reapplication regarding time in the water. Plus, consider the safety of the sunscreen’s ingredients both for you and the environment. The Environmental Working Group offers insight into sunscreen safety to help you decide what’s right for you.

8. Ignoring the expiration date

There’s a little number on your sunscreen’s label that you should glance at every time you use it: the expiration date. “The FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for at least three years,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology. “Throw out your sunscreen if it’s expired or you’re unsure how long you’ve had it.” You can make things easy for yourself by writing the purchase date in permanent marker directly on the bottle in case the expiration date ever becomes illegible or the bottle didn’t come with one.

9. Storing sunscreen in the heat

Sunscreen protects you from the sun. But you have to protect it from heat. Heat and humidity can affect the efficacy of sunscreen, according to Consumer Reports. That means you shouldn’t store it in a hot car or even in your bathroom, where temperature and humidity fluctuate. It’s best kept at room temperature, where it should remain effective even if it’s nearing its expiration date or the cap has been opened and closed many times. “If the contents of the sunscreen have separated — ‘spoiled’ sunscreen will be watery — or if it has changed color or has a funny smell, toss it even if it hasn’t expired,” Consumer Reports says.

10. Relying on multipurpose products

Sunscreen comes in many forms. Often it’s incorporated into makeup, which is fine as long as you’re supplementing that with an appropriate SPF and covering the areas it doesn’t reach. But one multipurpose product you should avoid is a combination of sunscreen and insect repellent. “Sunscreen should be reapplied frequently, but insect repellents should not,” Harvard Medical School says. “Buy separate products and apply them separately.” Furthermore, it’s best to use sunscreen lotions over sprays. That way, you can better determine how well your skin is covered, and you won’t breathe in any harmful spray ingredients.

11. Neglecting other sun protection methods

woman wearing a hat and sunglassesCredit: Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

Sunscreen is effective — but not infallible. So it should just be one tool in your arsenal of sun protection. “Since no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UV rays, it’s also important to seek shade and wear protective clothing, including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection,” the American Academy of Dermatology says. Plus, nowadays there’s clothing specifically designed for sun protection that’s ideal for those who are outside a lot. “Most athletic brands have some good options,” Cleveland Clinic says. “These are listed as UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) as opposed to SPF factors, but the numbers are similar.” With all the great sun protection options out there, you should have everything you need to keep your skin healthy and glowing, rather than burning.

Main image credit: bymuratdeniz/Getty Images

48 comments

Leo C
Leo C4 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Frances G
Past Member 4 days ago

Thanks

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer4 days ago

Good article - thanks

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Leo C
Leo C4 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

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danii p
danii p8 days ago

TYFS

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danii p
danii p8 days ago

TYFS

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danii p
danii p8 days ago

TYFS

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson8 days ago

I am a multiple offender.

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson8 days ago

Thank you.

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Kathy K
Kathy K8 days ago

Interesting. Thanks.

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