Tips for Using Sunscreen

spfSpring is here, and summer is just weeks away. That means longer days; more time in the sun, and more reasons to make sure you’re wearing your sunscreen. As dermatologists, we can’t stress enough how important the daily use of sunscreen is, even when you are not participating in the types of “outdoor activities” that most people generally think about applying sunscreen for, such as swimming and sporting events.

Photoaging (damage to the skin caused by the sun) can occur over time from repetitive unprotected sun exposure.  Without sunscreen, daily activities such as going to and from the car, walking the dog, or going to the mailbox can cause damage to your skin.  Photoaging can also be intensified by activities we don’t usually associate with sun damage, such as frequent air travel and long or frequent road trips.  Evidence of photoaging, such as blotching, discoloration, premature aging and even certain forms of skin cancer can be minimized with the proper use of sunscreen.

While you may not be used to wearing sunscreen on a regular basis and may balk at the idea, please realize that sunscreens have come a long way in the last few decades, and you may find that including sunscreen in your daily self-care regimen isn’t so hard to do. Lighter, less greasy sunscreens and even tinted sunscreens are now available on the market, as well as gels and powders that protect skin without the heaviness and shine that some SPF products in the past were known for. There are even sunscreens that can go on over makeup.

Here are our top tips for maximizing skin protection with sunscreen.

Use a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection. Choose a product containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide (minerals that reflect the sun’s rays away from the skin) and avobenzone or oxybenzone (compounds that absorb UV radiation before your skin does).

Put on sunscreen before going outside. It takes about 15 or so minutes for sunscreen to absorb into your skin, so don’t wait until you’re already at the beach or pool to apply your SPF.

“Waterproof sunscreen” doesn’t really exist.  The word “waterproof” makes it sound like the product won’t wash off in water, but all sunscreens eventually do. Sunscreens that are “waterproof” may take longer to wash off when compared to non-waterproof ones, but like any other sunscreen, you’ll still need to reapply after swimming.

Apply sunscreen generously. Adults need about one ounce of sunscreen to cover all exposed areas of the body. That’s roughly the amount of sunscreen that will fit in the palm of your hand. Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into all areas of exposed skin. Don’t forget the lips, ears, and the tops of the feet.

Reapply every 2 hours. Many people who get a sunburn didn’t necessarily forget to put on sunscreen; they likely forgot to reapply it. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, and more often if you are sweating excessively or spending a lot of time in the water.

Check the expiration date. Expired sunscreens don’t work properly and may cause you to burn. If your sunscreen has expired, throw it out and replace ASAP!

Use sunscreen on cloudy days, too. Overcast or winter skies don’t mean your skin is safe. UV rays can penetrate clouds, and the sun can burn you even when it doesn’t feel particularly strong. We recommend using sunscreen whenever you are outdoors, rain, shine, winter or summer. Make it a healthy habit for your skin.

Try a powder. Worried about sunscreen messing up your make up? Powdered sunscreens might just meet your needs. Made from the same UV-blocking ingredients as traditional sunscreens (zinc and titanium oxide), these products are in the form of a micronized powder rather than a cream, spray or lotion. Great for the face and neck, these sunscreens should be applied liberally using a soft brush. Use them after applying your normal foundation– or use them on non-makeup days, too.

SPFs don’t add up. Unlike adding dimes or dollars, sunscreen effectiveness is not calculated by adding the sum of the SPFs. For example, if your makeup has an SPF of 10 and your sunscreen has an SPF of 30, wearing them together does not add up to an SPF of 40. When it comes to sun protection factor (SPF), its effectiveness tops out at the highest number. So in the above scenario, your SPF would be 30 (the higher of the two SPFs) even though you are using both products at the same time.

Acne is no excuse for skipping the sunscreen. If you have acne-prone skin, you know that many sunscreens can clog your pores and cause breakouts. Luckily, there are formulations available especially for acne-prone skin.  People with sensitive skin may experience a similar problem with chemical sunscreens causing outbreaks or skin reactions. To avoid this, look for terms like “non-comedogenic,” “alcohol-free” and “fragrance-free.” Note: gels and powders are less likely to cause outbreaks than creams or lotions.

Our message to you this spring, summer (as well as fall and winter), is to (1) find a quality sunscreen that fits your lifestyle and works best for you.  (2) Take a moment to become familiar with your preferred brand or formulation of sunscreen and understand how to apply it correctly for maximum protection. And finally, (3) it’s never too early to teach children or grandchildren about the benefits of sun protection. Educating our young ones how to protect themselves from unnecessary sun damage can be educational and even fun for adults and young ones alike, and this education can last a lifetime, helping to prevent skin cancer or other issues caused by sun exposure later on in life.