How to Use Sunscreen (You May be Doing it Wrong)
Sunscreen is a medicine cabinet staple for people of all ages. Yet, as a skin care expert in Albuquerque, I’ve often been surprised by how many people actually use it incorrectly. In honor of UV Safety Month, allow me to set the record straight.
First of all, let’s talk about when you should apply sunscreen. The basic answer is simple: every day. Aside from its critical role in preventing skin cancer, sunscreen is also the ultimate “Fountain of Youth.” It actually prevents wrinkles and other unwanted signs of our many trips around the sun.
Now, let’s get more specific. You’ve likely heard that you should apply sunscreen before you actually get to the place where your skin will be exposed to UV radiation. But chances are, you often see people applying sunscreen the moment they arrive at the pool, lake, or beach. This is wrong, because it takes time (about 30 minutes as a rule of thumb) for the chemical ingredients in sunscreen to fully bind to your skin. It’s best to put it on before you leave the house to avoid any window of time where damage can occur. And don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours or after doing anything that causes the sunscreen to rub off, such as swimming, drying off, or sweating.
Next, let’s talk about how much you’re using. According to the folks at The Skin Cancer Foundation, studies show that most people use only a half to a quarter of the total recommended amount of 1 ounce. For reference, 1 ounce is a shot glass full! If you’re using a fraction of that amount, you’re not going to get the SPF you think you are getting. Skin cancer experts estimate that if you spend a long day at the beach and use the right amount of sunscreen, you will go through about a quarter of an average-sized bottle. Sound expensive? Keep in mind this is an investment that will pay off in the long run. (Be sure to check out our summer specials for details on how to get a free bottle of sunscreen valued at $46!)
Lastly, I wanted to put in a good word for choosing a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection. What does this mean, exactly? There are 2 types of harmful UV light: ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) and ultraviolent B radiation (UVB). Each plays a role in sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging. UVB is known to be the main cause of sunburn. UVA takes most of the blame for the signs of aging. A good broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against both of these dangers, not only warding off sunburn, but also the risks of skin cancer and early aging.
A few of the more obvious mistakes are worth a quick mention, too. These include neglecting your sunscreen habit when it’s cloudy outside (a definite no-no — you can still get burned), believing it’s “too late” now that you’re an adult, and using sunscreen with SPF lower than 15.