It’s officially summer. Do you know where your sunscreen is? Answering that question with anything other than “on my skin right now” is…not the right answer. At the risk of sounding like your mother, you must wear sunscreen. At the risk of sounding like your doctor, you must wear it every day.
Don’t just take my word for it. “Skin cancer rates are reaching epidemic proportions in people under the age of 40,” says dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, MD. Dermatologists agree that the most important tool we have in our arsenal to prevent against skin cancer and other issues caused by sun damage (like aging and dark spots) is sunscreen.
Sure, maybe there was a time when waring sunscreen was the worst. But we’ve come a long way since that chalky goop your mom used to slather on you during your family vacations as a kid, but men especially still tend not to use it regularly. “Most men don’t like the feel of sunscreen because wearing a cream is just not something they are used to,” says Mariwalla. “Nonetheless, any skin is susceptible to skin cancers so not using something because of the texture is only exposing yourself to harm.” These days, the whole “I don’t like how it feels” thing is no longer an excuse. There are new, lighter weight versions, spray formulas, natural sunscreens that won’t leave you chalky, and even quick-drying gels that go on clear.
It’s worth making sure you’re using sunscreen correctly, too. Proper application, upkeep, and exposure ensure the product is doing its work well. Here’s how to get the most out of your sunscreen and make sure you’re protected on and off the beach.
The best sunscreen is the one you actually use.
There’s a lot of debate going on right now about what sunscreens are the best for you (and the environment). Hawaii banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone because many believe it is contributing to the deterioration of coral reefs. The FDA recently released a list of sunscreen ingredients they want more information on, specifically in regards to their effects on our bodies. Many experts are now recommending mineral-based sunscreens over chemical-sunscreens, which work by forming a protective barrier on our skin using ingredients like zinc.
But Mariwalla, while she does prefer mineral sunscreens, says the best sunscreen is always “a formulation you will actually use. A sunscreen sitting on a shelf is doing nothing for you.” She recommends looking at the formulation (think lotions, sprays, and gels) and trying a few till you find one that feels comfortable on your skin, like a gel or lightweight daily serum that also contains antioxidants.
Sunscreen is not just for the beach.
“People think sunscreen should only be used when they are in the sun,” says Mariwalla. “Most people don’t realize that sun exposure happens every day.” Sun exposure happens on your drive to work, on your walk with the dog, and at the seat by the window in your office. It also happens whether it’s sunny or cloudy.
Because sun exposure is proven to cause skin cancer, Mariwalla recommends using it every day no matter what you’re doing. “If you use it every day it will become part of your routine, like brushing your teeth.” This is especially important on our faces, which are usually the most exposed. For daily use on your body, look for a fragrance-free formula so you don’t feel like you’re heading to the pool when you’re really just going to work.
A higher SPF doesn’t last longer.
According to Mariwalla, people often forget to reapply. The American Academy of Dermatology sunscreen guidelines say to reapply sunscreen every two hours and more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating (like immediately after a dip in the ocean). And don’t for a second think that you’re beating the system by wearing a higher SPF. “People think that if they use a high number like SPF 100 that it is twice as effective as SPF 50, so they put it on once and then leave the house for the day,” says Dr. Mariwalla. However, the SPF number refers to how much protection the product is giving you, not how long it lasts. All sunscreens need to be reapplied.
The AAD also says you should always use a minimum SPF 30 and make sure it’s broad spectrum (which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays).
Every skin type needs sunscreen.
Darker skin tones do have increased protection against the sun thanks to a higher quantity of melanin, but just because you might not burn as easily, doesn’t mean the sun isn’t affecting your skin. “Sunscreen doesn’t just prevent skin cancer, but also helps with hyperpigmentation, which is one of the major concerns in people with darker skin,” says Mariwalla. Regular use of sunscreen can help prevent freckles and melasma (dark splotches) as well as skin cancer. Opt for a clear version or tinted formula to avoid gray or chalky residue.
For maximum protection, use your preferred sunscreen daily, wherever skin might hit the sun. Your skin will be all the better for it.