11 Mistakes You Make with Sunscreen

Just because you apply lotion once doesn't mean you're protecting yourself.
Just because you apply lotion once doesn't mean you're protecting yourself.

1. Skimping on it
If you'll be spending all day in direct sunlight, you need to apply a shot glass size of sunscreen in the morning. Then, be sure to reapply every two hours. "When you skimp, you're not getting the SPF that's on the label," says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.

2. Thinking "the higher, the better"
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests using an SPF of at least 30. Many people will "buy an SPF of 70 or 100 and think it's going to last all day," says Tanzi. But, she explains, while SPF 30 blocks out 90% of the sun's rays, SPF 70 blocks out 98% -- it's a negligible difference. "It's much more effective to get SPF 30 and then reapply," she says.

3. Only protecting your skin at the beach
Yes, you should apply more liberally when you're in the sun all day, but sunscreen is mandatory every single day, says Tanzi. "Incidental sun exposure" -- walking down the street, driving, even sitting in front of a window -- actually accounts for the majority of sun exposure people get during their lifetimes, she says.

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4. Overlooking non-sunscreen SPF options
While you should wear SPF every day, you don't have to wear sunscreen daily. Wearing a BB or CC cream with SPF 30 or above is a good start. Another way to protect your face all day is powder sunscreen: It's mess-free and keeps your makeup in place. For the rest of your body, Tanzi recommends using body lotions with SPF or roll-on sunscreens, which are more hassle-free than the regular type.

5. Missing spots
There are common places where most people forget to apply sunscreen, says Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University's Langone Medical Center: around the eyes, the tip of the nose, the tops of the feet, the lips, and near the hairline and scalp.

6. Assuming that your sunscreen is all-powerful
Most sunscreens only do a good job of protecting us against exposure to ultraviolet B rays (UVB), which is what causes a visible burn. But exposure to ultraviolet A rays (UVA) causes skin damage, lowers your immunity, and can lead to melanoma, says Tanzi. Experts say to look for sunscreens labeled "broad spectrum," which protect against both types of radiation.

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7. Not encouraging your kids to put it on
To make sure your kids are wearing sunscreen, Tanzi suggests giving them the easier-to-use roll-on kind, so they can put it on themselves. The FDA recommends not putting sunscreen on babies under six months old, and, for older babies, only applying it to skin not covered by clothing and never around the eyes.

8. Choosing the wrong sunscreen for your skin
Your sunscreen could cause you to break out, so make sure to choose the right one for your skin type. For sensitive skin, use a fragrance-free type, advises Rigel. If you're acne-prone, look for a light, oil-free formula. For dry skin, choose a hydrating cream with ingredients like glycerin or aloe.

9. Thinking "water-resistant" means you don't have to reapply after swimming
According to the AAD, sunscreen can't be truly waterproof or sweat-proof, but they do recommend using "water-resistant" sunscreen. "If the sunscreen offers water resistance, you will see '40 minutes' or '80 minutes' after the words 'water resistant'," according to the AAD website. "This tells you how long your skin can be wet or sweaty before you need to reapply."

Related: 7 Surprising Ways You're Aging Your Skin

10. Thinking tanning is okay as long you're using sunscreen
"Getting tan means you're damaging your skin, period," says Tanzi. Regular tanning can cause premature aging (wrinkles and dark spots!), as well as melanoma down the road. The safest way to get some color? Spray tans and bronzers, she says.

11. Not tossing expired sunscreen
You probably have some old sunscreen in your medicine cabinet from two summers ago. The FDA says to be aware of the expiration date -- some sunscreen ingredients might become less effective over time.

-By Natalie Gontcharova

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