Question: I recently went out for a day on a boat with friends and even though I used SPF 50 sunscreen all day, I still got burned. What did I do wrong?
Answer: There’s a lot of news in sunscreen ingredients and thinking these days so lets update how you buy, use and apply sunscreen so you don’t get burned again (or needlessly exposed to the rays that cause aging, wrinkles and skin cancer):
Mistake: Not applying enough sunscreen
The current guideline is to apply a shot glass-worth, one full ounce, of sunscreen to your body when spending the day in the dun. And, the most important part, you should reapply this amount of sunscreen every two hours regardless of the SPF noted on the bottle, so you could go through half of an eight-ounce bottle in one day in the sun!
Mistake: Believing that sunscreens are “water-proof”
The FDA, in its new labeling guidelines, has declared that the use of the term “water-proof” misleading and banned brands from using it. The word will need to be removed from labels by December 2012. Now, the guideline is that sunscreen is “water-resistant” and only for a tested time limit of 40 or 80 minutes when spending time in the water, after which the product will need to be re-applied.
Mistake: Applying the sunscreen when you get there
The best way to allow sunscreen to do it’s work is to apply it a full 30 minutes before going into the sun, so it has time to bond to skin, instead of getting immediately rubbed off by a towel you lay on or washed off by jumping directly into the water.
Mistake: Not protecting your skin from UVA rays
It used to be that sunscreens only protected against UVB (the burning rays) but now a slew of new chemicals can absorb UVA rays (the ones that penetrate deeper to cause aging, wrinkles and skin cancer). Choose a sunscreen with the new designation “broad spectrum” because these have been tested by the FDA to provide protection against both UVB and UVA rays. Consumer Reports recently tested and rated sunscreens according to the new FDA labeling requirements and found these three top-rated choices:
- All Terrain AquaSport SPF 30 (for athletes and outdoor workers)
- Coppertone Sport High Performance Ultra Sweatproof SPF 30 (for athletes and outdoor workers)
- No-Ad with Aloe and Vitamin E SPF 45 (for the budget minded, every-day body user)
Mistake: Thinking the higher the SPF, the better the protection…
According to Consumer Report’s recent ratings, top-rated sunscreens are between SPF 30-45. The new thinking is that higher SPF does not really not afford more protection. Here’s why: an SPF 15 filters out approximately 93% of all incoming UVB rays, SPF 30 filters out approximately 97% and SPF 50 filters out approximately 98%. No sunscreen can block out 100% (which is why the FDA has also banned the use of the word “sunblock” on labels) of all UV rays so after an SPF 30, you can see the difference in filtering is negligible. The old thinking: If your skin starts reddening in 20 minutes when exposed unprotected to sunlight, using an SPF 15 should prevent your skin from turning red for 15 times longer (approximately 5 hours). The new thinking: No sunscreen protection lasts more than 2 hours. Choose an SPF 30-45 and reapply one ounce every two hours for real protection.
Mistake: Ignoring your scalp
Most people protect their eyes with sunglasses and slather on the sunscreen but completely ignore their scalp. This is very dangerous, especially if you have any hair loss or thinning issues. Apply sunscreen to any areas experiencing hair loss (a widening part-line, bald spot or receding hair line) and definitely wear a hat!
Mistake: Believing that the sun does not affect your face every day
I advise everybody to apply a basic “broad-spectrum” sunscreen every day to face, underneath makeup or in makeup for women, especially to protect against photo-aging and skin cancer that you cannot see happening. One that I personally recommend, that was also recommended by the Consumer Reports Ratings, is La Roche-Posey Anthelios 40 with Mexoryl SX SPF 40.
Have you made any of the mistakes on this list recently? Tell us your worst sunburn story in the comments!