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May 22, 2017

Are Your Sunscreen Habits Raising Your Risk?

by John Hastings

You slather on the sunscreen on before heading for the beach, but you still look like a tomato the next day. Dermatologist Scott Flugman, MD, at Huntington Hospital, knows this story well, and he’s trying to rewrite it. “People still shrug it off if they get a little pink,” he says. “But any sunburn increases your risk of cancer.” The problem? Using sunscreen right isn’t quite as simple as we all assume. Here, five mistakes people make when they spray or smear it on.

You don’t use enough.

“Sunscreen isn’t magical,” Dr. Flugman says. “You have to reapply it throughout the day, and you have to use more than you realize.” How much is enough? A full ounce to two ounces every time you apply – a lot more than most people realize. An ounce of lotion will fill your palm. Or picture this: If you have an 8-ounce bottle of sunscreen, you need to use as much as a quarter of it for each application.

You forget to reapply.

Sunscreen isn’t a once-and-done kind of thing. You need to reapply every couple of hours – and after every swim. Remember that 8-ounce bottle? It should be at least half gone after a full day on the beach.

You settle for a low SPF.

A sunscreen’s “sun protection factor” (SPF) measures how well it guards against the ultraviolet rays that burn your skin, UVB rays. (UVA rays don’t burn, but they do raise the risk of cancer – as well as causing wrinkles and aging your skin.) Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects you against both UVA and UVB. And make sure it has an SPF of at least 30, Dr. Flugman says.

You’re using last year’s sunscreen.

Like milk, many sunscreens carry an expiration date – and it’s not just a trick to get you to replace it more often. A sunscreen’s ingredients can separate over time, reducing its effectiveness. Do your skin a favor and restock each spring.

You’re missing a few key spots.

Whether you use a lotion, spray, wax stick or other option, you may be skipping some vulnerable parts of your body. Among the most likely to be missed, according to Dr. Flugman: the sides of your trunk, backs of your legs and top of your feet. People also frequently forget that their lips can get burned – coat them with sunscreen or use a lip balm or lipstick containing a sunscreen. Also take care to cover your ears and forehead; a hat with a wide brim is a big help. “Shade is your best protection,” Dr. Flugman says. He’s also a fan of the new surf shirts. “A long-sleeve surf shirt gives you a great barrier between your skin and the sun,” he says. “And if you wear one, you won’t have to apply as much sunscreen.”