You Might Not Be Using Sunscreen Right

The sun is shining. Sunscreen is a topic we come back to again and again. It’s a topic that matters all the time. UV rays can still damage your skin even when it’s not sunny outside. But in these sunny months, when we spend so much time outdoors, discussing the topic is essential.

Last year, we wrote about picking the best kind of sunscreen for you — chemical vs. mineral. ( Now, we’re taking on other questions.

There’s a lot people don’t know about sunscreen. There are many ways to misuse it. One in five people will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. ( Sunscreen can lower the risk but only if it’s being used correctly.

In our modern world, blue light is cast on our skin throughout the day from computer screens and cell phones. ( Blue light can cause skin aging and UV rays can come through window glass. Even if you stay indoors, sunscreen can help you stay healthy.

Generally speaking, we wear too little sunscreen. “In order to achieve the SPF on the label, you need about one shot glass of sunscreen — most people tend to use less,” said dermatologist Dr. Jason Miller. (

You also have to wear lip balm with SPF 30 or above. If you use a lip balm without sun protection, you might as well be “applying baby oil to your lips.” (

Most sunscreen bottles will tell you to reapply your sunscreen every two hours. If you are swimming and using water-resistant sunscreen, reapply it after 40-80 minutes. ( If you are inside, cool and dry, the Skin Care Foundation recommends reapplying sunscreen every six hours.

There’s good news for women: facial moisturizers and makeup often contain sunscreen. ( If you use one with SPF 30, that would cover you for both cancer and skin aging. However, most women don’t use as much moisturizer or foundation as they would use sunscreen.

“SPF makeup is not a substitute for a stand-alone sunscreen,” said cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Cula Svidzinski. “Daily moisturizer with a minimum SPF of 30 may be okay if your day consists of very little time outdoors.”

However, she pointed out that you don’t reapply your makeup or moisturizer throughout the day the way you would use sunscreen. Therefore, she recommended using a base of regular sunscreen under your other moisturizer to protect you all day. ( It’s also important not to neglect your neck, makeup only covers your face!  

Many people don’t know sunscreen expires. ( Bacteria and yeast can grow in sunscreen. The preservatives in sunscreen can break down faster if left somewhere hot, like the trunk of your car. When it changes color, smells off, or is more liquid than it typically is, these are all signs of spoilage. Generally, sunscreen has a lifespan of three years.

Lots of people don’t like the goopy feeling of traditional sunscreen. Now, there are powders, sticks and sprays. These can be effective. However, you have to apply them correctly, and that can be difficult. Because of how they are applied, ensuring you get the coverage you think you are with products other than lotions is much harder. (

If you mist the spray and step into it like a cloud of perfume, you won’t get enough coverage. “That’s maybe giving you SPF 1 or 2,” said dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Hughes. (

If you want to use a spray, you should spray yourself until “your skin glistens” with the product. (

Because the powders are so fine, you have to practically cake it on to get sun protection. “What people don’t realize is that, for a powder, that’s significantly more than what they imagine is just brushing it on,” Fu says. “It’s way more than people think — to the point where you actually have excess powder on the skin,” said cosmetic chemist Gloria Lu.  (  

A sunscreen stick can be useful on a hike when you sweat a lot and need to be able to reapply quickly. ( However, you should be aware that, to be effective, you need four full passes over your skin.  

Banner image: via Pexels

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