It was during my first vacation away with my dermatologist husband that I had a big "aha" moment about sunscreen. By the time we had met, I had already reformed my ways from the days of baking at the beach unprotected, and was now serious about sunscreen. I was confident on this vacation that I was demonstrating model sunscreen behavior. Boy, was I in for a surprise! My sun-smart behavior wasn’t as smart as I thought. Here are the five, common mistakes that I was making and — in case you’ve been making them, too — how to correct them.
Forgetting Your Hands, Neck, and Chest
It’s not that I expected sunscreen on my face to protect my ears, neck, and chest but rather it just never occurred to me that my ears and neck needed their own protection. I became so fixated on protecting my face that I forgot everything else. This is actually risky business. If you are out in the sun thinking that you are protected because you have sunscreen on your face, your ears and neck are at a higher risk for burning — because you’re not as protected as you think you are. I'll leave the baking for the kitchen, and not for my chest.
SPF In Your Makeup Isn’t Enough
For years, I’ve specifically bought makeup that had sunscreen in it under the impression it would do double duty and protect me from the sun. (Primers, foundations, and powders, I have them all!) Well, they don't help you as much as I thought. It’s not that these products don’t give some level of protection, it’s just that they don’t give enough.
In order to get the SPF labeled on your bottle, you need to apply an adequate amount — typically a nickel-sized dollop for your face. That green pea-sized amount of foundation doesn’t cut it. Makeup with SPF is great, but you need to use it with your regular sunscreen, not instead of it. Plus, repeat lesson number one, because we tend to apply makeup to only our faces, rather than our ears, neck, and chest. Learn how to layer sunscreen with makeup here.
You Need Sunscreen Even When You Can’t See the Sun
The concept that you don’t need sunscreen on a cloudy day is a total myth. I've learned that UV light penetrates through clouds — and even passes right through glass. That means you’ll need sunscreen even if you are driving or are indoors by a window. For years, I’d always looked for a treadmill at the gym right next to the window so I could have a good view while I ran. Little did I know that the half hour I spent there was putting my skin at risk. Now I skip the treadmill with a view, unless I want to apply sunscreen first.
Reapply Every One to Two Hours
In my twenties, I would spend entire days at the beach with friends. How is it that I could remember to reapply my lipstick several times during the day, but not my sunscreen? I put my SPF on carefully before I left the house, so I assumed a second coat at some point during the day would be fine as a touch-up. My older, wiser self has learned that no sunscreen gives protection for more than about two hours. That single, mid-day reapplication does not cut it. UV-blocking ingredients in sunscreen break down over time. Plus, if you sweat a lot or go swimming, the sunscreen rinses off your body.
Sitting Under an Umbrella Is Not Enough
More times than I can count, I’ve gotten lazy and decided that I would just sit under an umbrella so I did not have to apply sunscreen. (I’m sure I’m not the only person who has done this!) Unfortunately, this is another big mistake. My husband showed me a study published last year showing that wearing sunscreen actually gave you better protection from the sun compared to sitting unprotected under the umbrella. It is hard to believe, but UV can reflect off water, windows, or beach sand. There's no escaping the sun — even when you’re under an umbrella.
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