Are You Making These 10 Sunscreen Mistakes?
It's that time of year, and sunscreen is of the utmost importance. Seems easy enough. But there are big mistakes that can make it a moot point.
I’m writing this on the eve of my Mohs surgery. In case you’re not familiar with what Mohs surgery is, it’s the most common technique and gold standard for treating two of the most common types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The procedure, done in stages, involves sitting while the surgeon (in this case, my dermatologist) removes the cancerous tissue, and analyzes it to make sure all the cancer cells are gone…one layer at a time. It wraps up once the area is declared “free and clear;” ending with closing the wound or letting it heal by itself (depending on its size and location).
I wasn’t all that surprised when the lab results came back positive from the biopsy that was taken of a suspicious-looking mole during my annual skin check. After all, I am fair-skinned, red-haired, and blue-eyed - a person who fits the “at-risk” profile not only for severe sunburns but for developing skin cancer. But more than being just surprised, I was annoyed at myself for what I did (or really, didn’t do) when I was younger.
As a generation who grew up without seatbelts or bike helmets (but miraculously managed to defy the odds), we also grew up without SPFs and adequate warnings about the cumulative damage caused by the sun.
Yet who knew that sun reflectors and hours spent worshipping the sun would portend lines, wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancer??
Today, you have to be living under a rock not to know about the dangers of the sun and the ways you can protect your skin from it. (Actually, that might be the only safe place to hide from the sun’s rays…)
Relying solely on your SPF is not a fail-safe option. There are still many mistakes people make using sunscreen.
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Using too little. Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen. You need about one ounce to cover your body. That’s the equivalent of a shot glass.
Applying it too late. Don’t wait until you’re outside. Apply sunscreen about 15 minutes before you head outside, so it has time to absorb and dry.
Applying sunscreen only in sunny weather. Harmful rays of the sun come through even on cloudy days (when up to 80 percent of the rays can penetrate your skin!)
Applying sunscreen only in the summer (and only outdoors). Even when it’s not hot out, the sun still can burn. Maybe not as quickly as in the hot months, but those ultraviolet rays still wield power. (Little known fact: The sun’s rays can even penetrate through windows and cause sun damage!)
Using an old bottle of sunscreen. All sunscreens must retain their original strength for three years, as per FDA guidelines. If there’s no expiration date on the bottle, and you don’t know how long you’ve had it, toss it. (Note to self: The next time you buy a bottle without an expiration date, write the date you purchased it on the bottle.)
Relying on only sunscreen and nothing else. While sunscreen is effective, it’s not one hundred percent. A hat, some shade and sun-protective clothing will further protect your skin against burning. And don’t forget your sunglasses, too! UV-blocking sunglasses can help protect your eyes. Their surface area, cornea, and lens are all vulnerable to the sun, too.
Forgetting to reapply sunscreen. It’s not a one-and-done: You need to reapply sunscreen about every two hours while outdoors (or after swimming or sweating).
Not reading the label. There are so many types of sunscreens. What to look for: Broad-spectrum, water-resistant with an SPF of 30 or higher. And if you’re concerned about the chemicals in sunscreen being absorbed by your skin, you might want to consider a mineral sunscreen. As opposed to chemical sunscreens, which work like a sponge and absorb the sun’s rays, a mineral (or physical) sunscreen sits on the surface of your skin, acting like a shield to deflect the sun’s rays.
Missing important areas. Remember to apply sunscreen to your neck, your ears, and the top of your head, feet, and hands, too.
Thinking all types are created equal. Besides lotion, there are sprays, wipes, and sticks. It’s tough to use the shot glass measurement here (see number one, above). Your best bet? Use two generous coats of spray; apply two wipes, and swipe the sticks three times over each area.
For a Pause:
In case you missed it, here’s something I wrote a few years back about skin cancers.
I love this brand of sunscreen because they offer so many varieties, plus so many dermatologists recommend it. It goes on smoothly and feels like silk.
Seems I’m hardly alone: friend and colleague Cindy LaFerle recently wrote about her recent experience with skin cancer for the Oakland Press.
This hat by Solumbra has a nice, wide brim and offers 100-plus sun protection, too.
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