Technically, there shouldn’t be any such thing as “sunscreen season,” because you wear sunscreen year-round, right? Right?? The sun doesn’t stop shining (and causing photodamage) when it gets cold out.
But now that the weather’s warming up, skin is coming out and sunscreen is on everyone’s mind—or at least it should be. Women under 30 are now the fastest-growing group of skin cancer diagnoses, and UV light is responsible for the vast majority of skin damage that we eventually try to reverse with night creams and laser treatments and expensive foundations. So there’s not only a health reason to protect your skin from the sun... there’s a beauty reason, too.
But despite the fact that sunscreen’s “cool factor” has increased rapidly over the past few years, many women still aren’t getting it quite right. Even if you wear it every day, chances are good that you’re slipping up in at least one of these eight ways.
1. You’re Saving It For the Beach
Everyone should be wearing sunscreen each and every day, not just on vacation. UVA rays are all around us every day, so if your skin is showing, it should be protected.
2. You’re Not Using Enough
Many people make the mistake of applying a thin layer of product to preserve the natural feel of their skin, but if you don’t apply enough sunscreen, it doesn’t provide the amount of protection it claims. The American Academy of Dermatology and just about everyone else recommends a shot glass-sized dollop of product to cover your entire body—at least. If you’re larger than average, you’ll need more. If your skin is more sensitive than average, you’ll need more. Aim for thorough coverage, and if you need a less-greasy formula, choose a “dry finish” product.
3. You’re Not Reapplying Often Enough
Sunscreen lasts about two hours before it wears off, so whether you choose an SPF 15 or an SPF 150, reapply at least that often, especially when the rays are the strongest from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you’ve been swimming or sweating, reapply as soon as you’re done and dried off.
4. You’re Letting It Go Bad
After about three years, the active ingredients in sunscreen degrade and become less effective. If a bottle has been sitting in the sun or exposed to other environmental hazards, the breakdown happens even sooner. Chances are, the sunscreen that’s been sitting under your sink for three years has lost its mojo, so toss it and buy a new one. Remember: If you are applying sunscreen as often as you should and using as much as you should, a bottle should never last that long in the first place.
5. You’re Relying On Makeup
Although makeup might claim an SPF on the label, you’d have to slather it on in insane quantities to get that much protection. In reality, most foundations contain a small amount of SPF that won’t nearly cover you if you’re outside all day. Wear a full sunscreen in addition to a moisturizer or foundation with SPF.
6. You Don’t Understand SPF
It’s confusing. Theoretically, SPF 15 and SPF 30 let you stay in the sun 15 or 30 times longer, respectively, than you could if you weren’t wearing anything. However, wearing a higher SPF doesn’t actually allow you to go longer between applications. It doesn’t work that way. A sunscreen’s SPF refers to how much of the UVA/UVB rays it filters or deflects. The higher the SPF, the more protection from rays.
7. You’re Missing Parts
Don’t forget the tops of your ears, the back of your neck, the part in your hair, and your hands, all of which take more than their fair share of sun abuse and tend to get forgotten during application. And definitely be vigilant about protecting your cleavage.
8. You’re Being Stingy with Pricy Products
Expensive sunscreens may feel like they’re worth it, but if you’re afraid to use too much for fear of running out too soon, stick to the cheap stuff. Buy what you can afford to apply liberally and often, not a product that you’ll only dip into as a treat. Consider splurging on a sunscreen for your face only, if you're concerned about cheaper products on the sensitive areas.