What dermatologists wish you knew about your sunscreen

Did you know that despite our best intentions, most of us fail to effectively protect ourselves from the sun

According to Dr Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist, many people use only 25-50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen, leading to reduced protection against UV rays [1].

What is the role of sunscreen in skin health?

Sunscreen is a crucial barrier against skin damage and premature aging, and helps prevent skin cancer.

Yet, many people struggle to understand how to select and apply sunscreen effectively. Dr Campbell says, “People often underestimate the amount of sunscreen needed for proper protection” [1].

How do you choose the right sunscreen?

Dr Campbell recommends opting for mineral sunscreens over chemical ones. Mineral sunscreens, which include ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, act as a physical barrier, reflecting UV rays away from the skin. 

In contrast, chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays but may not offer as complete protection [1].

How do you apply sunscreens properly? 

The recommended amount of sunscreen to cover the entire body is 1 ounce, approximately the size of a shot glass.

For facial application, the “two-finger rule” — a line of sunscreen along the length of your index and middle finger — is a helpful guide to ensure you’re using enough [1].

Common sunscreen misconceptions

One of the most prevalent mistakes is assuming that makeup or moisturizers with SPF provide sufficient protection. 

However, these products usually offer lower SPF levels and lack broad-spectrum coverage, leaving skin vulnerable to both UVA and UVB rays. Dr Campbell stresses the importance of applying a standalone facial sunscreen, especially if your makeup or moisturizer has an SPF below 30  [1].

How much sunscreen do you need?

Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours, or more often if you are swimming or sweating. 

This frequent application is necessary because even water-resistant formulas start to lose effectiveness once you get wet. 

Applying sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure is important to allow the ingredients to fully bind to the skin, especially with chemical sunscreens [1].

Overlooked areas and additional protection

Don’t forget to cover often-missed areas such as ears, tops of feet, and the scalp. “Aggressive skin cancers often develop in these exposed areas, partly because they are frequently neglected in daily sunscreen application,” explains Dr Campbell. 

Besides applying sunscreen, wearing SPF-rated clothing, hats, and sunglasses can significantly boost your protection  [1].

How do you incorporate sunscreen into your daily routine

As revealed in a community-based sunscreen intervention study in Nambour, Australia, participants who consistently applied sunscreen noticed substantial benefits. 

Although most applied less than the ideal amount, the regular use itself was a step forward in skin cancer prevention [2].

Religious application of sunscreen can significantly reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer. Keep in mind that effective sun protection entails more than merely applying any sunscreen. 

It involves selecting the appropriate product, generously and frequently applying it, and combining it with other types of sun protection for best results.

Adjusting your sunscreen habits is key to safe sun exposure and youthful skin. So, next time you prepare for a day outdoors, take a moment to consider whether your sunscreen routine needs an upgrade. Your skin will thank you for it.

[1] https://www.cnet.com/health/personal-care/how-much-sunscreen-you-need/
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12374537/

Photograph: yanadjana/Envato
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