You’ve probably been told more times than you can count to put on sunscreen whenever you’re in the sun. This is certainly good advice. But, it hardly covers all of the bases necessary to qualify as full-on sun protection and avoid common sun mistakes. “It’s estimated that consumers typically apply 50 percent less sunscreen than they should,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “This means that the SPF sunscreen is getting diluted out, and people are not getting the protection labels on the bottle.”
Of course, if you already apply sunscreen, you’re in good shape. But you very well may be making one of the following common and critical sun mistakes.
1. You’re using a sunscreen with an SPF that’s too low.
SPF comes in all different levels, from 15 to even 100. But the current recommendation from both the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology is to use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30. “In fact, a recent study on the ski slopes of Colorado show that a sunscreen with SPF 100+ performed statistically better compared to a sunscreen with SPF 50,” says Dr. Zeichner. For this reason, he recommends that his patients apply the highest SPF possible.
2. You’re skipping sunscreen if your foundation has SPF.
Selecting a foundation with SPF is great for an added boost. However, Joel Schlessinger, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf contributor says that it should not be your only measure of protection. “Sunscreens are required to go through rigorous testing to be proven effective. Whereas foundation makeup may not be required to undergo the same testing.” He recommends trying a tinted sunscreen, like EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 Sunscreen.
3. You’re not using SPF when it’s cloudy or rainy.
Some days you can hardly feel the warmth of the sun. But, that doesn’t mean that it can’t affect your skin. “There are two types of UV rays: UVB, which causes burning, and UVA, which causes aging and skin cancer,” Dr. Schlessinger explains. “While clouds may hide the rays you can ‘see,’ you are still at risk.” This also applies to being indoors. Sunlight, even when filtered through windows, has a higher infrared component than most indoor lights. “Cancer-causing UVA rays can penetrate through window glass. I encourage everyone to always wear an antioxidant serum under SPF,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., a dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York.
4. You’re not reapplying.
The last time you were in the sun you might have put on sunscreen initially. But how often did you reapply? “Sunscreen only works for 40 to 80 minutes max, depending on the formula. [This] is why it is recommended that individuals apply every two hours, at least,” explains Dr. Schlessinger. “An excellent option for reapplying throughout the day is COOLA Organic Makeup Setting Spray SPF 30. It works well over makeup and also contains hyaluronic acid to keep skin hydrated.
5. You’re not paying attention to antioxidant protection.
If you wear sunscreen on the regular, that’s great, but dermatologists also recommend applying antioxidants. “While they don’t replace sunscreen, they do help boost how well it works,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “Adding an antioxidant to your regimen will help your sunscreen work more effectively because it helps neutralize free radicals that can cause skin aging.” He recommends LovelySkin LUXE Mattifying Antioxidant Moisturizer. It contains a grape-derived antioxidant called resveratrol, to combat signs of aging.
6. You’re using an SPF that isn’t broad-spectrum.
On the laundry list of things that you should look for in a sunscreen, whether or not it is broad-spectrum is a must. “SPF only pertains to UVB, but UVA causes aging as well as skin cancer. It is important to cover for that with a sunscreen that has UVA protection,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “A sunscreen that is not broad-spectrum will likely prevent burning. [But] it doesn’t protect skin from the UV rays that cause aging and skin cancer.” He recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 for everyday use, and an SPF of 50 or higher when spending time outside.
7. You’re only wearing SPF in the summer.
“While it’s true that the sun’s intensity is lower during the winter, snow reflects the damaging rays of the sun. [This] can increase your chance of sunburn or damage to your skin,” explains Dr. Engelman. “Incidental sun exposure for only ten to 15 minutes a day adds up over time. [It] can cause significant sun damage and accelerated photoaging.” In order to keep skin looking its youngest and healthiest, she recommends applying sunscreen 365 (or this year 366) days a year, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when your skin is exposed to the most strongest UV rays.