Most people know that sunscreen is important for avoiding an uncomfortable sunburn and reducing the risk of skin cancer. Unfortunately, most people do not know how to use sunscreen correctly, which limits its effectiveness and exposes people to great risk for sun damaged skin and skin cancer, like melanoma. Learn some of the most common sunscreen mistakes and how to make sunscreen a powerful weapon in protecting your skin’s health.
It is rare for most people to apply enough sunscreen to properly block the sun’s damaging UV rays. Dermatologists recommend using 1 ounce, or the equivalent of a shot glass full of sunscreen for an adult’s body. Your face should get a nickel-sized dollop of lotion. Most people use half or less than the recommended amount, which minimizes how effective the sunscreen will be in deterring sun damage. If you are using a spray sunscreen, it can be difficult to measure the amount you are applying, making it even easier to not apply enough. You should spray enough so that all of your skin has a sheen to it.
One application of sunscreen is not enough if you are exposed to UV rays for more than 2 hours. And if you are sweating or swimming, you should reapply as soon as your activity is done. If you get a water-resistant sunscreen, it will protect you for about 40 minutes of activity in the water or while perspiring heavily. A very water resistant sunscreen will last about 80 minutes. However, there is no water-proof sunscreen. Make sure to reapply when the time limit is up on your sunscreen.
Many people think they can only get sun damage on sunny days. However, as much as 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays reach the earth on cloudy days. You are still at risk for developing sun damage and skin cancer on the days when the sun is hiding.
While the sun’s UV rays are strongest in the summer, they can still do damage in other seasons. As a matter of fact, they can be stronger when reflecting off of certain surfaces, like water or the snow. Dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen every day on all exposed skin, regardless of the season. This is especially important if you are spending long periods of time outside engaging in activities like skiing, snowboarding or other types of outdoor exercise.
It’s easy to apply sunscreen on more noticeable and easily accessible areas of your body while missing smaller and harder-to-reach areas. Don’t forget to slather sunscreen on your ears, the part in your hair if you aren’t wearing a hat, behind your knees, on the tops of your feet, and in the areas where your clothing may shift as you move about. Get a friend or family member to rub sunscreen on your back or other exposed areas of skin you can’t reach.
Chemical sunscreen (as opposed to mineral or physical sunscreen) doesn’t start working right away. Your body has to absorb it, and this takes 15-30 minutes. If you expose your skin to the sun’s rays before your skin has absorbed the sunscreen, you are at risk for burning. Plan your activity so that you have time to wait for your sunscreen to absorb before sun exposure.
After a couple of years, sunscreen loses its potency, lowering the SPF and the effectiveness of the sunscreen. Look for an expiration date on your sunscreen and throw it away if that date has passed. Not all sunscreen manufacturers put an expiration date on their product. But there are some telltale signs that your sunscreen may need to be replaced. If the sunscreen has changed in smell, consistency or color, chances are that it’s no longer worth using. If you suspect that you’ve had the sunscreen for longer than 3 years, get rid of it. It’s not worth risking sun damage and skin cancer. Don’t keep your sunscreen in a hot location, like in your car or in the sun. Heat can degrade the UV blocking properties of the sunscreen.
Schedule a consultation with one of Vanguard’s board-certified dermatologists. Located in the greater New York City area,Vanguard offers a wide range of medical and cosmetic dermatology services, including Mohs micrographic surgery, mole evaluations, dermal fillers, and chemical peels.