You may feel that you are pretty good about wearing sunscreen, but less than 25% of people apply sunscreen correctly or frequently enough for it to be truly helpful. Here are some simple dos and don’ts to help you ensure that you are properly protecting yourself from the sun.
Do: Apply the correct amount of sunscreen.
When manufacturers determine the SPF of a sunscreen, it is determined with an application amount of 2mg of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. That equals about a shot glass or golf ball-sized glob of sunscreen to cover the entire body in a bathing suit. Using less than this amount and you will not be getting the advertised amount of protection.
Do: Apply the sunscreen frequently.
After applying sunscreen, it can be inadvertently washed off by going in the pool or ocean, or by sweating. It also simply wears out the longer you stay in the sun. New FDA guidelines require sunscreen manufacturers to clearly state on the sunscreen label how long the sunscreen is water or sweat resistant, and the sunscreen should be reapplied after that amount of time.
Match your sunscreen type to your activity. Wear thicker creams when you are relatively inactive such as reading or relaxing by the pool or at the beach, and gels or “sport” version sunscreens when you are exercising or sweating to avoid the sunscreen getting in your eyes.
Do: Use SPF 30 sunscreen with “broad spectrum” written on the label.
There are two major rays of the sun, ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). The SPF only tells us how much protection against UVB a sunscreen has, but protecting against UVA is equally important as UVA is thought to be the cancer causing and skin aging rays. SPF 30 gives us 98% protection from the UVB and the words “broad spectrum” on the label indicates that it has sufficient UVA protection as well.
Don’t: Use sunscreen sprays.
Spray-on sunscreens have become very popular due to their convenience and lack of mess when applying. However, it is impossible to tell if you have applied the correct amount, and much of the sunscreen gets blown away by the wind when applying it outside. The propellants in sunscreen aerosol sprays are also toxic to inhale. If you must use a spray, spray it in your hands and then apply to the skin.
Don’t: Use last year’s sunscreen.
The agents in sunscreen that protect us from the sun have a shelf life. Using sunscreen you bought last year will likely not have the advertised amount of protection. Get a fresh bottle and discard any left over from last year.
Don’t: Expose yourself to the sun before applying sunscreen.
Many people believe that getting “a little bit of sun” before applying sunscreen will give them that golden tan. In fact, the damage from sun exposure is additive and cannot be reversed so even that little bit adds up in the long run to cause wrinkles and even skin cancer.
Following these simple dos and don’ts about sunscreen will help keep your skin healthy and free of skin cancer. As a side benefit, you will have less wrinkles and look younger than your friends as well.