11 Mistakes That are Making Your Sunscreen Less Effective

Slathering on sunscreen before your foray into the sun probably has you under the impression that you’re good to go. That’s if you’re even remembering to wear any at all.

But did you know that there are plenty of ways to mess up your sunscreen regimen? There’s a right and wrong way to use sunscreen, but most people are making a handful of mistakes whether they’re hanging out on the beach or not.

In the interest of lowering your risk of melanoma, let’s make sure you have enough sunscreen protection when you step outside. Here is a list of common missteps to avoid when applying it:

  1. Not Applying Enough

    You need coverage on your entire body, not just the skin that is exposed. Apply a coin sized amount to the face, but be liberal with the rest of your body. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using enough to fill up a shot glass.

  2. Not Reapplying

    You sweat, you swim, and you bathe. Sunscreen washes off and weakens. Reapply every two hours or after getting in the water or sweating.

  3. Using the Wrong Kind

    We understand that SPF can be confusing, but you want to go for a sunscreen that is at least SPF 30. That means it provides you with around 97% protection. SPF 50 is roughly 98%. Whatever you do, leave the low SPF on the shelf, and try to stick to one that offers UVA and UVB protection.

  4. Skipping it When it’s Cloudy

    UV rays still shine through even on overcast days, so that means you should be wearing your sunscreen. That’s ditto for when it’s cold or windy outside.

  5. Waiting Until You’re Outside

    Dermatologists urge people to apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors.

  6. Missing a Few Spots

    It’s imperative that you rub sunscreen onto commonly forgotten areas such as your ears, eyelids, neck, head (if exposed) and the tops of your feet. Lip balm that contains UV protection should also be used on the mouth. For the eyes, sunglasses with UV coating should be worn if you are concerned about applying sunscreen to your lids.

  7. Trusting Your Makeup

    It’s true that SPF-containing makeup is available, but don’t depend on that alone for skin cancer protection. Apply your sunscreen to your dry skin first and then do your makeup.

  8. Forgetting about Expiration Dates

    You can’t always recycle your tube or bottle of sunblock from year to year because the stuff does expire. Look for a date on the package and if it doesn’t have one, scribble the purchase date on there. The FDA uses a 3-year guideline, but if you notice a change in the color or consistency of yours, toss it.

  9. Assuming Glass Will Shield You

    The windows in your home or car only protect against UVB rays, not UVA, which can still penetrate glass. Wear sunblock indoors and when riding in a car where you’re liable to catch concentrated rays on one side of your body.

  10. Improper Storage

    Where you store your sunscreen can affect its strength. Not only do you want to keep it out of direct sunlight, but also away from heat and humidity. That means away from window sills, hot cars, and humid bathrooms. Cool, dark places are best.

  11. You Only Use it On Certain Days

    Dermatologists and skin cancer specialists caution against skipping a day of sun protection. You should be wearing sunscreen daily and through all the seasons. The sun still shines in the winter, right?

Keep your sunblock well-stocked at home and in your handbag so you’re never without it. If you have kids, pack a small bottle for them to carry if they will be away from you during the day. Skin cancer can affect anyone so do what you can to protect yourself and your family.

Have you made any of these sunscreen mistakes? What’s your routine for applying sunblock? Which of these tips will you apply?


American Academy of Dermatology