We all know the importance of sunscreen. But if you're guilty of making one of these missteps, you're not as well protected as you think. Here's what to watch out for as you slather on the SPF.
You're Skimping on the Stuff
If you don't apply the right amount of sunscreen, you're not getting the protection you need. Dermatologist Jeannette Graf recommends using a nickel-size amount for your face and two shot glasses' worth on your body. If you're going to spend a lot of time outside, slather it on everywhere—even if you plan on wearing a bathing suit or clothes—and do so at least 20 minutes before you leave, so it has time to sink in. "If you wait until you get to the beach to apply it, your skin will be vulnerable while it penetrates," Graf says.
You Skip Sunscreen on a Cloudy Day
Would you stop wearing your seat belt just because you couldn't see any other cars? You need protection whether or not you can see the sun. "On a cloudy day in winter, you are getting as much exposure to UVA rays—the type of rays that cause aging and cancer—as you would on the hottest, sunniest day of the summer," Graf says. Always start your morning by applying sunscreen to every inch of exposed skin; that way, you don't have to worry about it as you're running out the door.
You Think You're Covered All Day With a High SPF
Don't get lulled into a false sense of security. "People really think a higher number of SPF means longer coverage," Graf says. But no matter the number you've picked, you have to reapply generously (again, that's at least two shot glasses' worth to your body and a nickel-size amount to your face and neck) every 90 minutes.
You're Not Choosing the Right Formula
A broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays, is what you need to keep yourself fully protected. Look for products with Mexoryl, Helioplex, or zinc oxide.
You Missed a Spot
Just because you have a thick head of hair, it doesn't mean your scalp is protected. If you're going to be in the sun, Graf suggests misting your head with a spray sunscreen or always packing a hat. And while you're focusing on your head, pay close attention to your ears. "It's not just your face that needs coverage," Graf says. The feet are the third area on the body people overlook—especially after they wade through water. Be sure to apply sunscreen to the tops of your feet before you slip on your sandals.
You're Doing Faulty SPF Math
Layering an SPF 15 over an SPF 30 does not get you the protection of an SPF 45. Stick to wearing the right amount of a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and reapply regularly for optimum protection.
You're Letting Your Makeup Do the Work
Plenty of foundations and pressed powders now contain sunscreen, but that doesn't mean they give you the right amount of protection. Experts say you would have to apply seven times the amount of foundation you wear to get the full SPF value of the product.
You're Supersensitive (and You Don't Know It)
Most people don't realize that certain medications, such as prescriptions for high blood pressure, birth control, and certain antibiotics, can make you sensitive to the sun and vulnerable to a bad burn. And watch out for foods, such celery and lime and other citrus, that have furocoumarins. The sun interacts with these chemicals and causes blotchy dark spots that take months to fade, so be careful when you're sipping—and making—cocktails poolside.
You Forget About Your Lips
The lips get more sun exposure than any other area on the face. And if you're in the habit of slicking on lip gloss before hitting the pool, "it's like putting baby oil on your body and lying out in the sun," Graf says. "You can burn your lips." If you plan on being outside, make sure your gloss has an SPF of 20, and put it on after you've covered your lips with a sunscreen lip balm. Then, don't forget to reapply regularly. "We speak, we eat, we drink, we lick our lips—it's constantly coming off," Graf says. "You should put it on whenever you can."