6 Common Sunscreen Mistakes You're Making—and How to Fix Them

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You know the importance of applying sunscreen, so we’re not going to mention it again. However, even if you’re adamant about putting it on every day, you can still feel the burn if you overlook an important step. How you put sunscreen on, along with the actual product you’re using, is equally as important as the act itself. For more details, we’ve turned to Miami-based dermatologist Dr. S. Manjula Jegasothy to learn what common sunscreen mistakes we’re possibly making, and how to avoid them this summer.

You’re Applying Your Sunscreen Too Soon

In the summer, you probably set aside a few extra minutes in your morning routine to ensure your coat of sunscreen sets in and you don’t step out with random white splotches all over you and your outfit. However, doing so is actually compromising your coverage. “Contrary to what most people think, sunscreen should be applied immediately before going out,” says Dr. Jegasothy. “In fact, allowing it to ‘set in’ actually makes it work less well. Most cosmetically-conscious people like to rub the sunscreen in so the skin does not appear so white or have that unappealing ‘sheen.’ But the more opaque the sunscreen is on the skin, the better the protection. Therefore, it is best to apply your sunscreen immediately before going out and do not rub it in.” There you have it.

You’re Not Reapplying It Often Enough

When you’re outside on a patio chatting it up or lounging by the water at the beach, it’s easy to get caught up with having a good time and not realize just how much time has passed since the last time you’ve applied your sunscreen. Dr. Jegasothy stresses the importance of reapplying it every hour when you’re in direct sunlight so it remains just as effective as when you first walked out the door.

You Need to Apply It—Even On Cloudy Days

Even when it’s not shining, the sun is still there hidden behind the clouds, so even when clear skies aren’t in the forecast you need to apply a healthy coat of sunscreen. “The closer to the equator you are, the more likely that your UV risk is equal when it is cloudy and when it’s sunny,” explains Dr. Jegasothy. “However, it’s recommended that you apply your sunscreen with the same frequency and to the same degree on cloudy days when outside, no matter where you are.”

You’ve Been Using the Same Tube for Years

If you’re still squeezing out sunscreen from the tube you’ve had from high school, you’re long overdue for a new one. Dr. Jegasothy recommends replacing your sunscreen every three months, not unlike your mascara and other makeup items that you use frequently because it’s also subject to bacterial contamination. “If your sunscreen has changed color, smells funny, or has become thicker in consistency, regardless of its age, it has changed formulation and needs to be discarded,” Dr. Jegasothy says.

You’re Not Using the Correct Formulation

It’s true, no two sunscreens are alike, and there’s a lot more to picking one than simply grabbing a bottle off the shelf and calling it a day. When picking a sunscreen formulated with your ideal SPF level, it’s important to consider your skin type and lifestyle. “The most common misconception of SPF is what it really means. What it really means is ‘Sun Protection Factor,’ which means that you can stay out in the sun 10, 20, 30 or 40 times longer without sunscreen after application of a certain SPF product,” she explains.

Another important factor to consider: Spray-on sunscreens may be convenient timesavers, but they don’t offer the same degree of protection as lotions. “Studies show that spray-on sunscreens go on much less evenly than lotion sunscreens. The center of the spray shows a much thicker coat of sunscreen product accumulation than the periphery,” says Dr. Jegasothy. “If you spray your sunscreen with sprays that are very close together in distance, then you may achieve the same even application as your lotion sunscreen.”

You’re Forgetting Your Lips

You make a point of applying your favorite lipstick bullet every day, so it shouldn’t be difficult to get into the habit on swiping on SPF on your lips too. Since our pouts have the highest skin turnover rate in our bodies at every two-three days, it makes them more susceptible to sunburns, long-term UV radiation, and at a higher risk for developing skin cancer. The easiest way to ensure your lips are covered is to swap your favorite lipstick for an SPF-infused lip balm or lipstick in a similar shade.

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