BY: Wendy Korn Heppt
Ouch -- you wore sunscreen and you still fried! The truth is, most people don’t use enough sunscreen or don’t apply it properly. They rub it in unevenly, miss spots or don’t reapply often enough. The result: You think you’re protected when you’re really not! Here, 10 things you should do before soaking up the sun:
1. Slather it on Studies show sunscreen users apply only half the amount they really need. Don't skimp! “Apply an ounce of sunscreen -- enough to fill a shot glass -- 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure,” says Deborah Sarnoff, M.D., vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. Why apply ahead of time? “Some ingredients need time to meld with your skin to be effective,” explains Dr. Sarnoff. And for those tricky places, like your back and hairline, try handy spray-on sunscreen. Pre-soaked wipes and roll on sticks are good for protecting burn-prone and easily missed places like your nose, ears, hands, knees and feet.
2. Reapply every two hours -- especially after sweating or swimming. There’s no such thing as “waterproof” or “sweat proof” sunscreen. In fact, these terms will soon be replaced with “water resistant” and “very water resistant” on product labels. Bottom line: “Your 4-ounce tube of sunscreen should be half gone after a day at the pool or by the 18th hole,” advises Dr. Sarnoff.
3. Choose “broad spectrum” SPF only applies to UVB rays, but new labeling will soon identify UVA protection, too. In the meantime, “use sunscreen labeled ‘broad spectrum,’ which blocks UVB and UVA rays,” says Henry Lim, M.D., chair of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. You should also know that most UVA filters break down when exposed to the sun, but that’s not the case with a new-generation ingredient called Mexoryl SX. “Unlike other UVA filters, Mexoryl is not degraded by sun exposure,” explains Dr. Lim. Combined with other active ingredients, it’s been shown to be an extremely effective sunscreen.
4. Up your SPF Sunscreen protection has hit triple digits, with new products offering SPFs of up to 100. While the FDA has considered SPF 30 to be sufficient, it’s considering increasing the minimum rating to SPF 50. Some experts say the difference is insignificant: SPF 30 protects against 97 percent of UVB rays, SPF 50+ blocks 98 percent. But “if you’re very fair, photosensitive or have a history of skin cancer, these higher numbers are helpful,” advises Dr. Lim.
5. Protect your lips Some small scale studies have indicated that wearing shiny lip gloss may act like a magnifying glass, attracting damaging UV rays and increasing lip cancer risk. So protect your delicate lips by wearing an SPF 30+ lip balm under gloss or lipstick.
6. Budget your buys When it comes to sunscreens, higher prices don’t necessarily mean higher quality. Buy a lower-price brand, and you’ll be more generous applying it.
7. Be an educated consumer One recent animal study reported by the Environmental Working Group suggested that sunscreens with oxybenzone could lead to free-radical damage to the skin, which in theory could cause skin cancer. However, scientists report no clinical evidence to support this. If you’re concerned, use sunblocks containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide instead.
8. Monitor your exposure New gadgets can tell you when you’ve had enough sun before you start to burn. Look for bracelets that change color or hand-held electronic devices that beep or glow when it’s time to cover up or head for shade.
9. Take a sunscreen pill Too good to be true? Harvard researchers discovered that heliocare, a fern extract used to treat psoriasis and eczema, increases your skin's tolerance to the sun when used in addition to sunscreen (not in place of it). Although heliocare costs about $1 per capsule, it can be worthwhile protection for a day out on a boat or the golf course, where excessive sun exposure is hard to avoid.
10. Go artificial Everyone loves a healthy glow, but the only truly safe tan is an artificial one. Self-tanning daily moisturizer is an easy way to get glowing. Color builds gradually, so you don't have to worry about streaks. If you’ve got the means to splurge, consider a professionally applied spray or airbrush tan, which lasts a couple of weeks.
Finally, even if you’re fastidious about how, when and where you apply sunscreen, keep in mind that sun protection is a package deal. “Wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, avoiding midday sun and covering up are all part of it,” says Dr. Sarnoff. So go out and enjoy the sun -- just be smart about it.
Wendy Korn Heppt is a New York City-based health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Health online, Prevention, Self, Consumer Reports, Newsday and NY Daily News. Wendy writes frequently for Live Right Live Well.