Despite everything we know about the risks of sun exposure, skin cancer is still on the rise — big time. In fact, in the last 35 years, rates of deadly melanoma have tripled. And those applying sunscreen are not immune. Improper application, the wrong product, and even a few of your other summertime activities can render sunscreen virtually useless. Avoid these common culprits and get the most out of your SPF for risk-free fun in the sun!
1. OTC Interference
If you’ve been slathering on the SPF but still come home from a day in the sun looking like a lobster, check your medicine cabinet. Common over the counter medications like ibuprofen, Aleve, Motrin, and Advil decrease the efficacy of sunscreen. Other culprits include Benadryl and other antihistamines, antibiotics such as Tetracycline and doxycycline and many acne treatments containing benzoyl peroxide. If skipping a dose when headed outdoors isn’t an option, be sure to wear UPF attire (the clothing version of SPF) and a wide brimmed hat. And stick to the safety of the shade!
2. It’s Not Enough
Even if you’re diligent about applying sunscreen you’re probably not using enough. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, at least one ounce of sunscreen should be applied every two hours for adequate coverage. Unfortunately, studies show most people use just one quarter to one half the amount they should, greatly decreasing the effectiveness of their sunscreen. To give you a better idea of how much you should be using, imagine a golf ball-sized amount or fill a shot glass with sunscreen and start slathering!
3. Getting Too Hands On
You say you’re using plenty of sunscreen and still getting burned? Could be the way you’re putting it on. Studies show that sunscreen is most effective when applied in a thin film and decreases when it is rubbed in. Next time you’re headed outdoors, leave a little greasy goodness on your skin and let your sunscreen sink in.
4. You’re Late to the Party
If pulling out the sunscreen and lotioning up is the first thing you do at the beach, it may be time to rethink your order of operations. Sunscreen needs about half an hour to bind with skin so you’re absorbing rays for 30 minutes if you haven’t pre-applied. Always put on your first coat of sunscreen before you leave home so it will be in full effect by the time you get outside.
5. Playing the Numbers
There’s no way you can get burned using SPF 100, right? Wrong! There are several reasons your high SPF sunscreen may be to blame for sun damage. Not only does a high SPF give a false sense of UV invincibility (SPF 100 does not provide twice the protection of SPF 50), it actually has a less optimal chemical balance. SPF is based primarily on defense against UVB — not UVA — rays. Because UVB rays are the main cause of most burns, a higher SPF signifies more UVB protection, not UVA despite these ray’s harmful effects. As SPF goes up so does the disparity between UVB and UVA protection. To safeguard yourself from both UVB and UVA rays stick to frequent applications of a sunscreen with an SPF between 15 and 50.
6. Not Watching the Clock
Many of us have made sunscreen part of the morning routine and may even reapply midday, but it’s not enough — no matter the SPF. Both the FDA and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend reapplying at least every two hours. Sunscreen simply isn’t effective after that amount of time. If remembering to reapply proves difficult, try setting an alarm on your phone if you’ll be in the sun for hours on end.
7. Sipping in the Sun
If you suffer from blotchy burns, it may be time to reevaluate your poolside beverage. Citrus juices and peels, most commonly lime juice — ahem margarita — make skin photosensitive, meaning you may be more likely to burn or blister in the sun. The good news is, the plant compound must come in contact with your skin in order for it to become sensitized. As long as you’re not squeezing your own limes you should be okay. But don’t start sipping and spilling, “margarita dermatitis” as doctors call it, is a common condition.
8. You Sweat It Off
Sorry sweaty friends, pit stains aren’t your only problem on a hot summer day. Just like water, sweat can wash away sunscreen making you more susceptible to burns. If you sweat heavily, even if you’re just taking a summertime stroll, consider a sport or water-resistant sunscreen and be sure to reapply every time you wipe sweat from your brow — or anywhere else!
9. It’s Past Its Prime
Christmas lights and pool supplies are great things to buy at an end-of-season sale. Sunscreen is not. Buying SPF in bulk last September may have seemed like an investment in your skin’s health but it may have been a poorly laid plan. Most sunscreens have an expiration date but, unlike Twinkies, are not good beyond that point. Over time, sunscreens lose strength. Even if the lotion looks good, toss it out if its past due. If the bottle doesn’t have a date, toss after three years or you see any changes in color or texture.
10. You Missed the Fine Print
SPF, UVA, UVB, broad spectrum, water-resistant versus waterproof, hypoallergenic, oil-free… With all the jargon it’s no wonder many consumers aren’t bringing home the right stuff. And without the proper product your more susceptible to burns. According to research conducted by the Environmental Working Group, only one quarter of the sunscreens available in 2013 offer “strong and broad UV protection,” meaning 75 percent of the products out there just won’t cut it. Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 50 or lower. Unless you’ll be in the water or sweating profusely, avoid water-resistant sunscreens as they can be less effective. Skip the insect repellent sunscreen combo as well. DEET, the most common chemical in bug repellent can reduce the effectiveness of SPF by more than 30 percent. To find a brand that meets your needs, check out the EWG’s sunscreen guide.