Patients sometimes tell me that they get sunburned despite putting on SPF. The fact is, even the most expensive sunscreen won’t protect you if you don’t apply it correctly. So if you’re having outdoor fun this Labor Day, here’s how to avoid a similar fate:
Do choose a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect you from the sun’s UVB (burning) rays. The American Academy of Dermatology also recommends looking for one with broad spectrum protection against UVA (aging) rays.
Don’t use sunscreen sprays. They’re convenient, but hard to apply evenly, and areas of skin in between the droplets may not be protected. If it's windy, guess where the sunscreen ends up? On whoever was sitting downwind. The FDA is currently examining whether sprays should be allowed to remain on the market. I tell my patients to choose a lotion or gel instead.
Don’t squeeze sunscreen into your palms, rub your palms together, then pat it on your arms and legs. This is the biggest mistake I see at the beach. Your palms are getting a good coating, but the rest of your skin isn't.
Do apply in a thin, even layer, since an unbroken layer of sunscreen will protect you best. Don’t rub too much (you’ll rub it off) and apply makeup lightly. For example, lightly brush on blush instead of rubbing.
Don’t skimp. Better to generously apply a drugstore sunscreen than skimp on an expensive one you’re afraid to use up. Most consumers only apply 20-50% of the recommended amount. A good rule of thumb is to use a shot glass full of sunscreen to cover exposed areas of the body (more or less, depending on your size and how skimpy your swimsuit is), and a half teaspoon on your face. One study published last month suggested reapplying sunscreen an hour after the first application to get the best protection. Afterwards, reapply every three hours, especially if you sweat, and every time you get out of the water.
Do remember your ears, eyelids, back of your neck, and tops of your feet. These are often forgotten and therefore sunburned.
Hope you have a relaxing, sun-protected Labor Day holiday!