Sunscreen is the most important skin care product you can use to protect your skin from the sun. A good sunscreen with potent UVA and UVB blocking can keep you from getting sunburnt. It also minimizes the development of wrinkles and other signs of aging, and can reduce your risk of skin cancer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In this article, we will discuss some common sunscreen mistakes and how you can effectively treat sunburns.
Sunscreens in skin cancer prevention
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting one in five Americans in their lifetime. Yet most cases of skin cancer can be prevented by protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. In animal studies, a sunscreen of SPF 12 was shown to protect against epidermal cell damage while a sunscreen of SPF 15, when applied to mouse skin was found to nearly abolish UVR-induced mutations in the p53 tumor suppressor gene.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is sun avoidance. Where that is not possible, once can practise seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. However, in a recent survey, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) found that not everyone is applying their sunscreen correctly, making several common sunscreen mistakes. This leaves people vulnerable to dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun and susceptible to skin cancer.
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Common Sunscreen Mistakes
Ignoring the label
There are a variety of sunscreens on the market with a myriad of labels offering little explanations, which no doubt contributes to the common sunscreen mistakes made by people. However, to effectively protect one from the sun, it is recommended by the AAD to wear sunscreens that are broad-spectrum, water-resistant and have an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunscreens that are “water resistant” are often misconceived to be very long lasting, but it may actually provide protection for only 40 minutes in water according to FDA definitions. Hence, to be as safe as possible when in the sun, use a lot of sunscreen and reapply it frequently.
Using too little and waiting too long to reapply
Amongst common sunscreen mistakes, the most frequently made mistake is probably that most people apply less than the recommended amount of sunscreen. One should apply sunscreen generously and cover all skin that isn’t covered by clothing. In fact, in order to achieve the SPF rating labeled on the bottled, one needs to apply 2mg per square centimetre of skin according to SPF definitions. This works out approximately to be a quarter to half a teaspoon to cover the entire face. In addition, one should apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors, and reapply at least every 2 hours and even more often if you are swimming or sweating.
Applying only in sunny weather
The sun emits harmful UV rays all year long, however the AAD found that only about 20% of Americans use sunscreen on cloudy days, where up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate your skin. To protect your skin and reduce skin cancer risk, apply sunscreen every time you head outside, even on cloudy days.
Using an old bottle
The FDA requires sunscreen to last three years. After that, it may not provide the amount of protection listed on the bottle. Check the expiration date before applying, and if there is no expiry date indicated on the bottle, assume it expires three years from the date of purchase. Throw out your sunscreen if it’s expired or if you are unsure how long you’ve had it, as applying expired sunscreen does not help protect your skin from the sun.
Relying solely on sunscreen
Since no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UV rays, it’s also important to seek shade and wear sun-protective clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor label, including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection for eye protection.
Missing Important Areas
It’s important to apply sunscreen to all areas that will be exposed to the sun, and there are a few spots people tend to miss as part of the most common sunscreen mistakes. A study published in April 2019 in the journal PLoS One found that nearly 20 percent of participants did not apply sunscreen to their eyelids, with the skin on the eyelid having the highest incidence of skin cancer per unit area. Lips are another often-missed area that’s susceptible to damage as they do not contain a lot of melanin, which is a protective pigment. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends one to wear a lip balm or lipstick with SPF 15 or higher.
Your skin can burn if it receives too much exposure from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Although it may seem like a temporary condition, sunburn can cause long-lasting damage to the skin, which may increase one’s risk of getting skin cancer. Hence, to help heal and soothe stinging skin, it is important to begin treating sunburn as soon as you notice it.
Taking Care of Sunburn
Use a moisturizer that contains ceramides to help repair sunburnt skin
While your skin is still wet after showering, apply a moisturizer cream or lotion to help seal in moisture. Ceramides are important components of a good moisturiser as they mimic natural lipids that help to repair and restore the skin barrier. Over the next few days at least following sun damage, apply moisturizer frequently to the affected area. This will help keep the skin hydrated and expedite repair of the skin barrier.
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Drink more water
A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, hence drinking more water when you are sunburnt helps prevent dehydration. It is vital to rehydrate by drinking extra liquids, including water and sports drinks that help to replenish electrolytes.
Take extra care to protect sunburnt skin while it heals
Wear clothing that covers your skin while outdoors and stay out of the sun entirely until the sunburn heals. Loose, soft, breathable and tightly-woven fabrics are recommended to protect the affected area. UPF or Ultraviolet Protection Factor where available is the gold standard for sun protective clothing. However, in the absence of that, it is sufficient to identify tightly-woven fabrics by holding the fabric up to a bright light and seeing that the fabric does not allow any light to pass through.
And there you have it, a whole list of common sunscreen mistakes and sunburn tips which we have now clarified and hopefully helpful to you!
Young AR, Claveau J, Rossi AB. Ultraviolet radiation and the skin: Photobiology and sunscreen photoprotection. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017;76(3S1):S100-S109. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2016.09.038