6 Mistakes People Make When Choosing & Using Sunscreen

by | Updated: June 22nd, 2018 | Read time: 3 minutes

As spring gives way to summer, it’s time to break out the sunscreen and slather on some protection against the sun’s harmful rays.

But all that effort will be for naught if you fall prey to the following mistakes when protecting your skin. 

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1. Choosing the wrong sunscreen

Simply going to the drugstore and grabbing the cheapest sunscreen off the shelf can be a mistake. Some of these products are better than others.

For example, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30. Such sunscreens block out 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, which are the rays that cause sunburn.

In addition, look for a sunscreen labeled as “broad spectrum.” Such sunscreens also protect against UVA rays, which are the rays that cause premature aging of the skin.

Finally, choose a water-resistant sunscreen, even if you don’t plan to splash around in the water. Perspiration also can wash away your sunscreen’s protective qualities.

2. Failing to use enough sunscreen

Too many of us grab the sunscreen, give it a couple of squirts and think we’re ready for hours in the sun.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way, says Hania Flaten, co-chair of the Colorado Skin Cancer Task Force.

Sunscreens are tested based on 2 milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin, says Flaten, a fourth-year medical student studying to become a dermatologist.  

“This means most people should use about 2 tablespoons — or about a shot glass — of sunscreen to cover the face and arms,” she says.

For the face alone, you need around one-half teaspoon, or a nickel-sized dollop, she says.

3. Not reapplying sunscreen often enough

Applying 2 tablespoons of sunscreen might sound like plenty of coverage. But that protection doesn’t last as long as you might think.

Flaten says you should reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if you are in the water or sweating. Even water-resistant sunscreens lose their effectiveness after 40 to 80 minutes of exposure to water or high levels of perspiration, according to the AAD.

“Your morning application is not enough to protect you all day,” she says.

4. Not using sunscreen on cloudy days

Out of sight should not be out of mind when it comes to the sun. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful rays can reach your skin, according to the AAD.

For that reason, the AAD recommends applying sunscreen whenever you go outside – even if clouds fill the sky.

5. Failing to cover up

Sunscreen is great, but even the best products cannot completely shield you from the sun. Covering up your skin with clothing offers much better protection against the sun’s harmful rays.

“SPF clothing is an easy way to protect yourself from the sun,” Flaten says.

Such clothing is identified by its UPF rating. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends choosing clothes with a UPF rating of 30 or more. Retailers such as REI, Coolibar and Solumbra sell SPF clothing.

Some standard clothing – such as denim and corduroy – also offers great protection from the sun.

Flaten also suggests wearing a hat. “They can be stylish and are an easy way to decrease sun exposure,” she says. “A wide-brimmed hat is best, but any hat is better than none.”

6. Planning outdoor events at the worst time

A lot of summer fun occurs during the heat of the day. And that is unfortunate for your skin’s long-term health.

“UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” Flaten says.

Scheduling activities outside these hours can provide extra protection for your skin. “Plan your run or outside event before or after these hours,” she says.