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Sunscreen: Are You Using It Properly?

Woman applying Suntan Lotion at the beach
As the seasons turn warmer, more and more people take advantage of the milder temperatures to spend time outdoors. For example, hikes, trips to the pool, camping, and summer sports all mean increased exposure to the sun. Unfortunately, many people do not wear sunscreen or do not have adequate protection because of misinformation about how sunscreen should be used.

Sun damage is very real, and the right protection is the best defense against cancer and other skin problems. Here are some common mistakes people make while using sunscreen and how you can avoid them.

Don't Rely on a Base Tan

Tan skin, is now a common beauty goal, much to the dismay of skin care providers. Despite warnings, people still go to tanning salons or hit the beach in order to get a base tan early in the summer season to allow the skin to get darker with increased exposure. Many of these individuals avoid using sunscreen altogether. 

The misconception is that this base tan will provide protection against sunburns and therefore reduce the risk of cancer. However, any darkening of the skin from your natural tone is indicative of UV damage, and any UV damage can lead to skin cancer. A base tan only offers an SPF protection of 3, which wouldn't prevent any damage after just minutes of sun soaking.

Regardless of your natural skin tone, a base tan doesn't offer protection from the sun. Instead of relying on a base tan for protection, use sunscreen daily. For the face, choose moisturizers that have added SPF. If you want to look tan for cosmetic reasons, consider investing in self-tanning creams or airbrushing, or take the summer slowly and use sunscreen to prevent burning. 

Don't Forget to Reapply

Sunscreen is not meant to be applied once and then forgotten about for the rest of the day. It fades over time, or you lose coverage with heavy perspiration or with exposure to water, even if your sunscreen is labeled as water resistant. After a few hours in the sun, take some time to put more sunscreen on, and always reapply after swimming or sweating.

Don't Assume Sunscreen Isn't Necessary 

Unfortunately, some people also avoid wearing sunscreen because they think it is not important. On cloudy days where the sun isn't shining as bright and the temperatures are lower, fewer people wear sunscreen because they can't feel the heat of the rays on their exposed skin. However, clouds do not block UV light, and you can still get sunburned even when the skies aren't clear.

People also forget about sunscreen when they are out on the water or when the weather is chillier, even if it is sunny outside. A cool lake breeze will not decrease your sun exposure, and the reflecting water can even make burns more severe. 

Don't Rely on Sunscreen Alone

You can keep your skin healthy by keeping protection a high priority. Some people make the mistake of thinking a 50 or 60 SPF cream will provide all the protection they need, however, sunscreen alone may not be enough.

For example, faces and heads get the best protection from hats. Exposed arms, especially in cloudy weather, get 100% coverage from long sleeves. Lips need the protection of SPF balms. Keep in mind that even your eyes, which cannot be protected with sunscreen, need sunglasses to filter out harmful UV light.

In addition, a sunshade on the beach will block rays during the hottest times of the day, especially after you've been in and out of the water with weakened sunscreen protection.

For more information on the importance of preventative skin care this summer, contact us at the offices of John M. Humeniuk, M.D.