Everyone knows that slathering on sunscreen is essential during the sunnier months. But how much should you actually use? Can you skip it when it’s cloudy? And do darker skin tones need protecting?
Not knowing the answers to these questions could mean you’re putting your skin – and your health – at risk.
To help ensure you don’t burn this summer, Dylan Griffiths, medical manager at Eucerin, gives a run-down of some common SPF mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. Not using enough sunscreen
“The easiest way to visualise is via teaspoons. It’s recommended to use half a teaspoon for the face, neck and each arm. Then a full teaspoon for each leg, the front (chest and stomach) and the back.
“This totals six teaspoons, but if you don’t feel that’s enough then it’s always good practice to add more.”
If you’re applying enough, you should restock your sunscreen supply several times each summer.
Research shows most people apply only 25 to 50 per cent of the amount of sunscreen used during testing, which means your actual SPF coverage is about one-third of what’s on the label. In other words, an SPF 30 is only as strong as an SPF 10 if you don’t apply it thoroughly.
2. Not using sunscreen on a cloudy day
“This is the biggest sunscreen myth. Sunscreen should be worn every day.
“Clouds filter out sunlight but not UV rays, so even on a cloudy day you’re still getting up to 80 per cent of the sun’s harmful effect.
“If you’re going outside, then you should still cover up; your skin may not burn but it’s still being exposed to long-term risks.”
The Sun Smart website recommends wearing sunscreen every day that the UV index is higher than three, come rain, hail or shine. The Cancer Council has a free Sun Smart app that gives you live updates on UV levels, a sunscreen calculator and reminders to reapply.
3. Missing spots
We’re often pretty diligent when it comes to applying sunscreen to the face but it’s easy to miss those pesky hard to reach spots. So, it’s no coincidence that these three often-neglected spots are among the most frequent sites for basal and squamous cell carcinomas, the two most common non-melanoma skin cancers. These commonly missed areas include the scalp, ear, lips, front and back of the neck, backs of hands, and top of the feet. Melanoma, meanwhile, crops up frequently on the backs of women’s legs, another area that is hard to see and reach. Ensure you coat all exposed areas with sunscreen and reapply regularly.
Look for lip balms with SPF included and reapply every 90 minutes to two hours.
4. Believing your sunscreen is waterproof
“Waterproof sunscreen doesn’t exist – we talk about water resistance.
“This means the product won’t instantly come off the skin when it meets water, and is designed for people who will be swimming or heavily perspiring.
“It is essential to reapply the product straight after coming out of the pool and drying, or regularly whilst perspiring.”
5. You rely solely on sunscreen
Sunscreen is a very important part of sun protection, but it shouldn’t be the only one. We should also avoid prolonged and intense sun exposure (like tanning) whenever possible and wear clothing and accessories to help block the sun. Darker-coloured fabrics with a tight weave and fit offer the most UV protection.
“The damaging effects of UVA rays still penetrate your skin whilst [you are] indoors and near a window, therefore, ensure you cover up whilst in the car or seated near the window.”
6. Not using sunscreen on darker skin tones
“It’s a common misconception that dark skin doesn’t burn or doesn’t suffer from the harmful effects of UV rays. In fact, skin cancer can be more difficult to detect on black skin.
“Darker skin does contain higher levels of melanin – black skin has a natural SPF of around 13.4, paler white skin is about 3.4.
“This, therefore, provides a higher natural protection factor compared to pale skin but it’s not enough to protect from a day in the sun.
“Some sunscreens can provide an ashen or grey appearance to the skin, therefore, look for a light-textured, dry-touch sunscreen or a spray oil.”
7. Using an old bottle
Just like milk and medication, sunscreen has an expiry date and, if you’re using an expired bottle, you could be wasting your time. Not only can sunscreen become less effective over time, but once a bottle is open, it’s more likely to become contaminated with germs.
8. You’re storing it incorrectly
Sunscreen should be stored at temperatures below 30°C and out of direct sunlight. This can be difficult when you’re spending a day at the beach, but it can help to wrap it in a towel and keep it in the shade, alternatively, store it in an esky or freezer bag to help keep it cool.
While keeping a bottle in the car may seem like a good idea, frequent exposure to high temperatures could make your sunscreen lose effectiveness completely.
How do you stay safe in the sun? Do you wear sunscreen every day? Do you have any other tips to add to the list?
– With PA
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