Picture this. You’re out with your family and friends, enjoying a fun sunny day; maybe you’re at a park, or even at the beach. Considering you knew you’d be out all day, you were prepared, apply sunscreen before you went out that morning, and even remembering to reapply. However, you get home, and start feeling very warm, then your skin is stinging. Running to the mirror you quickly realize you’re sunburned. Again.
Clearly your top priority is to quickly minimizes the damage to your skin (Psst… We have some suggestions on how here), but a question that always pops up is, “How did I get sunburned?” You put on sunscreen, you even reapplied, maybe you even made sure to find some shade. Undoubtedly, you did everything right? Well could it be the very first step is where the mistakes begin? We’ve read through and studied all the most common sunscreen mistakes and narrowed them down into three easy points for you.
Mistake 1: You’re not using enough
Sunscreen application seems straight forward enough: apply to the body and go. Well, as it turns out there are a few more things to consider. According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, majority of individuals only apply 25-50% of the required amount of sunscreen. Probably because most of us don’t realize that we need about a shot glass amount of sunscreen to cover our whole bodies! That is a lot more than most of us think to put on.
Also, when putting on sunscreen, make sure you cover all visible skin. According to an American Academy of Dermatologists study, people most commonly forget to cover the tops of their feet, neck, ears, and even the head. Yes, your scalp can get sunburned, as well as your lips, and eyelids. This means complimentary UV protection such as sunglasses, lip balms with SPF, and hats, play an important role in sunburn prevention.
A final thought on sunscreen application, the British Association of Dermatologists’ (BAD) suggests you apply your sunscreen on dry skin about fifteen minutes before going outside. Apparently if we apply to early it wears off more quickly.
Mistake 2: You’re not reapplying
Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours is the standard rule of thumb for most dermatological organizations, and medical think tanks. Does this mean you should set a two hour timer on your phone? Well no. According to expert dermatologist Dr. Abdulla, the two-hour rule is outdated. Evidently, when sunscreens were originally created, they weren’t photostable and would break down. She notes, “Newer, innovative sunscreen formulations with UVA and UVB filters are stable with sun exposure but we rarely apply enough sunscreen the first time around and often skip areas, hence the awkward sunburn.” Her suggestion to prevent sunburns is to reapply sunscreen whenever and as much as you can.
Another element that we all tend to overlook is how easily sunscreen can come off. Even if the bottle says, ‘sport-resistant’, or ‘water-resistant’ that doesn’t mean you don’t need to reapply. In fact, most manufacturers even say on the sunscreen bottles to reapply after sweating or swimming for best effect. Also, if you touch your skin a lot the sunscreen will rub off quicker, meaning you need to reapply.
We know, it can be a lot to remember. There is an easier way to know when you need to reapply sunscreen. Using UV indicators is a quick way to know if you need to reapply or when you have had too much sun exposure. After applying sunscreen, to you and the indicator, you can go about your day as normal, just reapplying sunscreen whenever you see a notable color change.
Similarly, your skin can have to much sun exposure in a day. If you see pink on your UV indicator, it’s time to find some indoor activities.
Mistake 3: You’re not using the right kind
Have you ever stood in the sunscreen aisle staring at a wall of bottles with brightly colored text saying things like: “broad spectrum”, “Ultra Sport”, “Kids’ safest”, “Protect” and so many SPF numbers from 10-100 you feel like loosing your mind? We understand it can be overwhelming. In fact, A 2018 study by the BAD found that a quarter of parents don’t know which sunscreens to buy, because they don’t know what the statements mean, or the logic behind SPF numbers.
As noted in our last article there is universal standard for SPF, requiring multiple tests. But, what’s the real difference among all the number? To give you an idea SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays. As Dr. Wang an expert on photoprotection explained, “The SPF number tells you how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to redden your skin when using the product exactly as directed versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. So ideally, with SPF 30 it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen.”
He goes on to note that laboratory tests aren’t the same as ‘real life’ and emphasizes his concern over higher number SPFs leading individuals into a false sense of security. Some other things Dr. Wang wants us to keep in mind when looking for sunscreens are the phrases are “water-resistant”, “broad-spectrum”, and sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. If you want to know more about what broad-spectrum sunscreen means you can read about it here.
Also, expired sunscreens simply don’t work, so make sure you check that before you apply it.
AAD, 2019. “Sunscreen FAQs” American Academy of Dermatology. [Online] Available at: [LINK]
AAD, 2019. “Common Sunscreen Mistakes” American Academy of Dermatology. [Online] Available at: [LINK]
BAD, 2019. “Sunscreen Fact Sheet” British Association of Dermatologists. [Online] Available at: [LINK]
CDC, 2019. “UV Radiation” United States Center for Disease Control. [Online] Available at: [LINK]
Hale, E., M.D., 2019. “How much Sunscreen should I use on my Face and Body?” The Skin Cancer Foundation. [Online] Available at: [LINK]
Hyland, L, & Cripps, Z., 2019. “Five big sun protection mistakes experts warn parents to stop making” Mirror. [Online] Available at: [LINK]
Ritschel, C. 2019. “How much Sunscreen you need to apply according to Dermatologists” The Independent. [Online] Available at: [LINK]
Schocker, L., 2013. “8 Sunscreen Mistakes You’re Probably Making” Huffington Post. [Online] Available at: [LINK]
Wang, S., M.D., 2018. “Does a High SPF Protect my Skin Better?” The Skin Cancer Foundation. [Online] Available at: [LINK]