10 Sunscreen Mistakes You’re Probably Making

by Jacqueline Ho Content Producer

You smear on sunscreen when you go outside, wear a big hat and try to sit in the shade--so you should be protected from the sun, right? Not necessarily. Here are 10 of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to wearing sunscreen.

You ignore the expiration date

Most people probably don’t check the expiration date on their sunscreen, but, like milk or fresh produce, it can go bad. If there’s no expiration date on your sunscreen bottle, write the date of purchase on it and throw it out after one year. Also, avoid leaving sunscreen out in direct sunlight, as certain types can decompose.

You don’t use enough

Most sunscreen users apply only 20 to 50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Dermatologists recommend using one ounce--enough to fill a shot glass--to cover the body each time you apply sunscreen, plus about a teaspoon more for your face.

You apply sunscreen only once a day

Many people rely on one sunscreen application to last them the whole day. But even sunscreen labeled as “sweatproof,” “waterproof” or “long-acting” can wear off over time. Also, sweating and swimming can diminish its effectiveness. Sunscreen should be reapplied about every two hours or after sweating heavily or swimming.

You apply sunscreen only when you get outside

Sure, it makes sense to apply sunscreen when you’re going outside, but it takes time to be absorbed and start working. Within the first few minutes of sun exposure, the skin is most vulnerable to UV exposure. For optimal protection, experts recommend applying sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside.

You don’t protect your eyes

Sunglasses aren’t just a fashion accessory—they’re important for protecting your eyes from UV rays. Even though they’re usually more expensive, sunglasses that offer UV protection are worth the cost. Dark lenses without the protective coating can actually let in more UV rays, which can contribute to cataract development.

You neglect certain areas of your skin

Haphazardly applying sunscreen on your shoulders and back then calling it a day simply isn’t enough. Less obvious areas require just as much attention. Take time to carefully apply sunscreen to your ears, eyelids (if it’s a sunscreen safe for the eye area), underarms, back of the neck, between your toes and the bottoms of your feet. Be sure to also wear a lip balm with SPF.

You rely on SPF in your makeup

Your makeup might have SPF, but it’s typically not enough for effective sun protection—particularly if you’re going to be outside for long periods of time. Apply facial sunscreen after washing your face and moisturizing and apply your makeup afterwards. The same goes for self-tanners, which often have insufficient SPF.

You rely on your clothing for sun protection

If you only apply sunscreen where your skin is exposed, you’re not getting full protection. T-shirts, for example, typically have only an SPF of about 5, which means that lots of UV light is going through your clothes. Apply sunscreen before putting on your clothes, or you can try using a laundry aid in your wash cycle, which can increase clothing’s SPF.

You buy the highest SPF you can find

No sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s rays—not even sunscreen with an SPF of 100. Experts recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks approximately 97 percent of the sun’s rays. High SPF products often have higher levels of chemicals than do low SPF sunscreens, which may contribute to health risks such as tissue damage and hormone disruption.

You stop using sunscreen in the winter

Even though it may not be warm outside, it’s just as important to wear sunscreen in the winter as it is during the summer. If there’s snow on the ground, it can reflect the sun’s rays, which can cause sunburn. During the colder months wear sunscreen on your exposed skin and use lip balm that contains sunscreen.

Jacqueline Ho
Meet Our Writer
Jacqueline Ho

Jacqueline is a former content producer for HealthCentral. She is a multimedia journalist with a bachelor's degree in English Literature and a master's in Broadcast Journalism and Public Affairs.