6 Sunscreen Mistakes We’re Still Making
Posted by Girls Guide To on May 26, 2012 at 3:41 PM
Still hitting the tanning bed or spending hours by the pool? Dermatologists say that may of us still are…and we’re leaving ourselves vulnerable to skin cancer. I know what you’re thinking. I am young, healthy, and goodish about the sun. But goodish isn’t enough.
You know what you’re supposed to do: Use sunscreen, avoid the sun at its peak, stay in the shade. But knowing doesn’t always translate into doing, or at least doing the right way. Skin cancer is still on the rise, particularly among women in their twenties and thirties. This year alone, melanoma rates in the U.S. are expected to jump: 76,250 new cases will be diagnosed, and that’s 6,020 more than in 2011. Doctors are saying that they’re seeing so many young women with melanoma that it’s scary. And there’s been an increase among all skin types. Everyone is getting it. But you don’t have to. Skin cancer is largely preventable if we can fix some of the mess-ups the experts at Glamour say we’re still making.
Mistake #1: Not enough sunscreen!
It’s unanimous—derms agree that most women don’t always use enough SPF to protect themselves. To get the level of SPF you see on the label, you have to spread the lotion on like a layer of vanilla frosting; that’s the thickness used in Food and Drug Administration tests. But research shows the average person applies just one-quarter to one-half of that amount. Meaning your SPF 30 is really a 10. If you then stay out all day—and let’s face it, it happens all the time—you’ve more or less put on sunscreen to protect your conscience, not your skin. So don’t skimp: Frost that cupcake! And if you hit the beach, try a higher SPF like 30 or 50. You’ll have more of a safety net in case you don’t slather on enough.
Mistake #2: Going “face only”
The most neglected spots dermatologists see are the neck, chest, and backs of hands. That damage raises your cancer risk—and it makes you look older too. In fact, up to 90 percent of visible signs commonly blamed on aging are caused by the sun. And I totally get that no 20-year-old is worried about sun damage or aging on these areas. But think about brown spots all over the backs of your hands and the crinkly neck and chest you’ll have in 10 tears. Yuck! Take the 10 extra seconds and be sure to protect those spots. Don’t count on the SPF in your lotion or face cream to do the job, either. It’s better than nothing, but if you’re outside for more than a few minutes, you need actual sunscreen.
Mistake #3: Putting faith in a fake tan
Self-tanners do not contain sunscreen. Period. They just don’t have any protective ingredients. So get it out of your head that it will protect you. Also, be perfectly honest with yourself about why you’re self-tanning. The whole idea, of course, is that if you get the bronzed-goddess effect from a bottle, you’ll be less likely to want a sun-induced tan. But a lot of us use these products so we don’t look pale when we go to the beach to tan. Please: Keep your fake tan truly fake, and wear sunscreen over it.
Mistake #4: Oops, forgot to reapply
You should do it every two hours—hourly if you’re sweating, swimming, or out midday, when the sun’s most intense. According to a study from the Coppertone Solar Research Center, 21 percent of people who use sunscreen never reapply it, even though reapplying has been shown to be one of the most important factors in determining how protective sunscreen is against UV damage and skin cancer. Go two and a half hours without reapplying, and you’re five times more likely to burn. The ingredients in sunscreen literally break down and become useless after a few hours, no matter what you’re doing. Reapply! Set a reminder alarm on your phone if you need to.
Mistake #5: Bronzed obsession
Even in 2012, many women still think tans are hot. I get it. I feel better when I have a little color too. But this is what really happens: When UV light traumatizes the skin, brown pigment, or melanin, covers cells like a shield, trying to protect the fragile DNA inside from burning. This happens extremely quickly—within about 20 minutes of being outside without adequate protection. A tan is essentially your skin cells screaming, “Ouch!” Even scarier, doing damage to your skin can actually be addictive. In a new study, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas discovered that when frequent tanning-bed users were exposed to UV rays, the areas of their brains associated with reward lit up—similar to the way an addict’s brain lights up when exposed to drugs. Best way to beat the addiction: Just don’t start.
Mistake #6: The one-time sun binge
Many women think that a trip to the Caribbean can’t be as damaging as spending day after day by the pool. You can develop skin cancer in both scenarios, of course. But periods in which you get intense amounts of sun all at once—a phenomenon dermatologists call “sunbursting”—are more likely to cause potentially deadly melanoma, because, very often, the skin hasn’t seen the sun for a while, so its defenses are down. By comparison, chronic sun exposure—like the kind you might get from spending a couple of hours a day outside all summer—is more linked to squamous cell carcinoma (still skin cancer but not as deadly as melanoma).
You don’t want any type of cancer—or sun-provoked wrinkles, for that matter. So protect yourself, but don’t feel you need to deny all sunny pleasures to do it. It’s not a black-and-white issue. Enjoy your life. Go to the beach with your friends, take a walk, but yes, use sun protection. There’s no question that being out on a warm, sunny day feels amazing. Just be a little bit smarter about it.