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7 Common Sunscreen Mistakes & How to Treat Sunburn

September 6, 2021

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.

Common Sunscreen Mistakes

The SunProtector™ is formulated with physical blockers like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that effectively blocks blue light emitted by indoor devices. Portulaca Oleracea (Purslane) and Oligopeptides in this sunscreen are potent antioxidants which actively fight free radicals generated by blue light as well as airborne pollutants – for comprehensive protection.

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. 

Skin repair cream

The Multi-CERAM™ Moisturiser is an ultra intensive skin moisturiser for total skin barrier repair with pharmaceutical grade ingredients. It is dermatologist-formulated to treat eczema, dry sensitive skin and to prevent skin aging.

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

Skin Cancer Dermatologist Singapore

January 18, 2021

Skin cancer is the 6th most common cancer in Singapore. As in the case of all suspected cancers, early detection is crucial for a positive prognosis. Are you searching for a skin cancer dermatologist in Singapore? Dr. Teo Wan Lin is an expert skin cancer dermatologist in Singapore who performs mole screenings, diagnosis of skin cancers and surgical treatment. She has published on the topic of skin cancers, including a first author publication on T-cell lymphomas in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Oncology and on morpheaform basal cell cancers in the International Journal of Dermatology.

Book an appointment here.

The basics of skin cancer

There are two main types of cancers that occur on the skin. The first is what we term as malignant melanoma, and the second category would be non melanoma skin cancers.

We’re gonna start with the diagnosis of a skin cancer. The two main types of skin cancers can be distinguished primarily by the presence of pigment, specifically melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that produce pigment and appear commonly as what we describe as moles. When a skin cancer arises from a mole known as melanocytic naevus, it has the potential to be a melanoma.

What are the warning signs of a mole that is cancerous?

We use the acronym ABCDE, which stands for the following A for asymmetry B for borders C for two different colors and D represents diameter. So, a mole that is larger than 6 millimeters large in diameter
is more suspicious than one that is smaller than that. Lastly, E for evolution, meaning if an existing mole changes or evolves, either by becoming itchy, if it bleeds, if there is a sudden increase in size or if the mole or part of it disappears. Now these are warning signs.

Non-melanoma skin cancers

Moving on to non-melanoma skin cancers. Now, these are actually the more common type of skin cancers in Asia, and can be further divided into the following the basal cell cancers and the squamous cell cancers. These two types of cancers are distinguished based on The origin of the cancer, whether they come from the basal layer of cells, or whether they arise from the superficial layer known as the keratinocyte layer.

The key thing about non-melanoma skin cancers, is that the prognosis is generally good, as long as one gets diagnosed and treated early. Diagnosis is via clinical examination and may require biopsy.

If you have a family member who has had a skin cancer before you are considered at higher risk than the general population. Especially if you develop a mole, or a new growth that seems to be changing. If you have not noticed it before and you have suddenly noticed it, it may be time to get evaluated by an accredited skin cancer dermatologist.

What does a skin cancer dermatologist do in the context of management?

First of all, if you have a suspicious growth, it is important to rule out the diagnosis of a skin cancer, which, in the context of this article can be either melanoma, or non melanoma skin cancer. Most moles, however, are not melanoma. They may appear atypical, meaning slightly different from your regular most because they present with features of dysplasia. Dysplastic moles can have irregular borders, multiple colors and can be fairly large as well.

An accredited skin cancer dermatologist who specializes in the treatment of skin cancers will be able to diagnose a melanoma or a dysplastic mole using tools such as clinical examination, dermoscopy. If necessary, your skin cancer specialist will suggest a biopsy.

The most important thing to note is this. If you have a diagnosis of a dysplastic mole, which is a histological diagnosis, you are on the average at higher risk of acquiring melanoma in your entire lifetime, compared to an individual who does not have the diagnosis.

Skincare Bible Skin Cancer Dermatologist

The Skincare Bible- Dermatologist’s Tips on Cosmeceutical Skincare is your ultimate guide to the commonest skincare and beauty questions. Available in bookstores islandwide, via the Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals Education/Bookstore and on Amazon Kindle.

Diagnosis of melanoma

The good news is that early stage melanoma can be effectively cured with surgical acquisition, as long as there is no lymph node or organ involvement. However, the danger is a lot of moles may be hidden, such as on the buttock area or on the soles of your feet, which is not easily self-monitored. When you may discover that a mole has been growing there for some time, it may be a little late.

If a mole has any of atypical features, it needs to be diagnosed promptly. For the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers, the prognosis is generally good as long as the diagnosis is made early. The problem with non melanoma skin cancers is that when it’s diagnosed and treated late, there is significant morbidity. Realistically, it leaves a larger surgical scar, there may be a lot more tissue loss, as opposed to if it were diagnosed in the early stage and removed at that time.

Melanoma: skin cancer dermatologist

Credit: American Academy of Dermatology Association

Basal cell cancers

Some of the characteristic diagnostic features of basal cell cancers would be a pearly pink or pearly white nodule or papule, located on any part of your body. The face is one of the commonest areas. A basal cell cancer when closely examined shows signs of increased blood vessels from the surface, also known as telangiectasia.

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Credit: American Academy of Dermatology Association

Squamous cell cancers

For squamous cell cancers, a lot of these look like bumps, where there is excessive dead skin. Some individuals who have had significant amount of sun exposure in their lifetime may develop several precancerous growth known as actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis are not squamous cell cancers
but must also be treated in order to prevent transformation into squamous cell cancers.

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Credit: American Academy of Dermatology Association

Actinic keratosis can be treated with liquid nitrogen, as well as surgical excision, if there is suspicion of transformation to squamous cell cancers.

Are you looking for an experienced skin cancer dermatologist in Singapore? Book for a consultation with Dr. Teo Wan Lin, an accredited dermatologist with our online booking tool here. 


Teo WL, Tan SY. Loss of Epstein-Barr virus-encoded RNA expression in cutaneous dissemination of natural killer/T-cell lymphoma. J Clin Oncol. 2011 Apr 20;29(12):e342-3. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2010.31.4096. Epub 2011 Jan 31. PMID: 21282547.

Teo WL, Wong CH, Song C. Morpheaform facial basal cell carcinoma – a 16-year experience in an Asian center. Int J Dermatol. 2012 Nov;51(11):1396-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2010.04767.x. Epub 2011 Dec 16. PMID: 22171721.

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