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How to Get the Most Out of Your Sunscreen

Last updated: Jul 14, 2020


After spending months cooped up indoors, many of us can't wait to get outside and make the most of summer. But before you head out to bask in the beautiful sunshine, you should stop to re-evaluate exactly how you apply your sunscreen.

Sure, applying sunscreen seems easy. Find an old bottle in your medicine cabinet, rub some cream on before cannonballing into the water, and you should be covered, right? Not quite.

Not only can using sunscreen incorrectly cause a nasty sunburn, but it can also result in skin cancer down the road. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the    United States and all skin types are susceptible to the disease after sun exposure.

The good news is that most cases of skin cancer are preventable and, more often than not, it starts with your sunscreen. So before your next soak in the sun, here's how to make sure you're getting the most out of your sunscreen.

When should you apply sunscreen?

Don't let the weather forecast fool you: Sun damage can occur in hazy climates, indirect sunlight, and even shade. If you're going outside, err on the side of caution by applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing. For more protection, accessorize with a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of polarized sunglasses.

If you're headed to the pool or beach, you might think it's a good idea to put on your sunscreen once you get there. In reality, it's better to apply your sunscreen sooner rather than later. Harsh UV rays can damage your skin in less than 15 minutes, so it's best to slather on some SPF 30 minutes before you go outside.

How often should you reapply sunscreen?

Putting on sunscreen is not a one-and-done situation. Constant sun protection requires constant upkeep, so it's important to reapply frequently. Experts recommend reapplying every two hours when you're in direct sunlight, plus after swimming and toweling off.

And, yes, you still need to reapply if you're using "waterproof" sunscreen. The truth is, most sunscreens are water-resistant rather than waterproof, so they 'll lose their protective power after a quick dip.

It can be difficult to remember to reapply when you're having fun in the sun. For a skincare safety net, set a timer on your phone as a reminder.

How do you choose the right sunscreen?

Ultimately, the type of sunscreen you use is just as important as how you apply it. As a general rule of thumb, your sunscreen should be at least SPF 30. Anything lower won't give your skin the sun protection it needs.

But whether you select a mineral, chemical, or aerosol sunscreen, it's important to check the expiration on the bottle. Using what you have might seem more resourceful, but sunscreen generally loses potency after three years or after being exposed to high temperatures.

Be sun smart and reduce your risk of skin cancer. Regularly examine your skin for signs of skin cancer such as changes in size, shape, color, or border of a mole and get an annual skin cancer screening by a dermatologist.

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