Spoiler alert: Your BB cream might not have enough SPF to cover you.
Even if you’re good about using sunscreen on a daily basis, you’d be surprised by how easy it is to make miss an important step—and get burned. But we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the most common sunscreen slip-ups and how to steer clear of them.
1. You still have sunscreen from 2013.
That’s bad for two reasons: Sunscreen is only good for up to three years. So if it’s been that long since you bought it, toss it. Having old sunscreen lying around is also a sign that you’re not using enough. To properly cover your entire body, you need to apply a shot-glass worth (about 1 ounce) of sunscreen, says Andrew F. Alexis, M.D., chairman of the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai West. So if you and a friend share an 8-ounce bottle of sunscreen during a weekend at the beach and reapply every two hours, that bottle should be empty by the time you head home.
2. You only slather on sunscreen before breakfast.
Not reapplying sunscreen is one of the biggest mistakes people make, thinking that the sun protection they applied at 7 a.m. is going to last the entire day. It doesn’t. “The protective effect diminishes after several hours, especially in scenarios where there is considerable perspiration, such as exercise and prolonged sun exposure,” says Alexis. “For this reason, applying sunscreen every two hours when active and outdoors for extended periods is recommended.”
But for everyday use when you’re not perspiring much or at all—such as commuting to and from your office—you can reapply less often, according to Alexis. For easy touch-ups throughout the day that won’t mess with your makeup, try misting a setting spray with sunblock, such as ($36), or swiping on a compact foundation with SPF, such as Shiseido UV Protective Compact Foundation with SPF 36 ($28 for the foundation, $8 for the case). You can also wear a wide-brimmed hat, which not only protects your face, but also covers your ears and scalp.
Related: 11 Bad Beauty Habits to Break ASAP
3. You figure your BB cream with SPF is good enough.
Think of makeup with SPF as a one of the weaker members of a boy band: It’s great when paired with others, but it’s not strong enough to fly solo. “SPF in makeup should not be relied upon as the primary source of sun protection,” says Alexis. “It is an added bonus, but the reality is that the usual amounts of makeup used by most women on a daily basis does not offer anywhere close to full sun protection.” A better bet? After washing your face, use a moisturizer with SPF 30 all over your face and neck. That way you’re more likely to slather on a good amount, according to Beth Glenn, Ph.D., associate director of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Give it a minute to sink in, and then put on your makeup with SPF for good measure.
4. You’re not protecting your pucker.
Even people who are champs at putting on sunscreen every day are often guilty of neglecting the lips, but that can put you at risk. “The lips–especially the lower lip–is susceptible to considerable cumulative sun damage and is a site where skin cancers develop,” says Alexis. In fact according to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), the lower lip is 12 times more likely to develop skin cancer than the top lip because of how it tends to protrude from your face, absorbing more damaging rays. Lips also have almost no melanin, which is the body’s natural defense against UV rays. So they’re an especially vulnerable body part. But that’s not all: You may be making matters worse if you’re a big fan of lip gloss. Shiny gloss can actually act as a beacon, like baby oil, directing the sun’s damaging rays right to your lips. Alexis recommends wearing lip balm with SPF 30 on a daily basis and reapplying frequently.
5. You think you’re safe behind windows.
The truth: You’re getting more sun exposure than you realize while driving in your car and sitting by that coveted office window. Although glass does protect you from UVB rays, regular windows in your office and home let UVA rays in. “UVA is a wavelength of light that penetrates deeper into the skin and can be even more harmful than UVB with respect to the risk of skin cancer,” notes Alexis.
Car windshields are treated to block UVA rays, but the side and back windows block very little to none, according to the SCF. This leaves you exposed to harmful, age-accelerating rays. Research shows photodamage, such as wrinkles and age spots, is more common on the left side of the face, which is the area most susceptible to the sun when driving. A 2011 study found that exposure to UV rays is 20 times stronger on the left side of the body than it is on the right and that malignant melanoma is more likely to crop up on the left side.
6. You’re a big fan of spray-on sunscreen.
Sure, they’re super convenient and can help you reach your back in a pinch, but it’s easy to miss areas with spray sunscreens. It’s also hard to tell if you’ve put on enough (how can you be sure that you’re actually applying an ounce?). But if you’re not ready to part with your spray bottle, make sure to do a second coat to be safe. Then rub it in to make sure it’s applied evenly. You should also avoid spraying sunscreen directly on your face at the risk of inhaling some of the ingredients. Instead spray the product into your hand and rub several layers to your face and neck manually.
7. You think that having a dark complexion means you’ve got built-in sun protection.
While it’s true that people with dark skin tones are less likely to get skin cancer, they aren’t protected 100 percent. If this particular group does develop skin cancer, it tends to be more aggressive, making them more likely to die of melanoma within a five-year time period, according to the SCF. “I diagnose and treat skin cancers in African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other individuals with darker complexions every year,” says Alexis. “There is lower awareness of this risk among people of color and as a result, many skin cancers are diagnosed at later stages in darker skinned populations.” Bottom line: Protect the skin you’re in by using a moisturizer with SPF or sunscreen every day. “The best strategy is for everyone to practice sun protection and to cover up and seek shade whenever possible,” says Glenn.
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