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SPF 101: 5 Common Sunscreen Mistakes (and What to Do Instead!)


Think you’re doing everything right but still getting sunburned? Or maybe you’re just curious to know if you’re truly on top of your sunscreen game. Either way, if you’re looking to improve your sun protection habits (which we love), we can help! We’ve rounded up the five most common mistakes you may be making and asked Dr. Camille Howard, a board-certified dermatologist and IT Cosmetics Advisory Board member, what you can do instead to keep your skin protected.

Mistake #1: Not using sunscreen at all

A common misconception is that only some people need sunscreens (like those with sensitive skin or fairer complexions), but with skin cancer as a leading health concern, we can all benefit from daily sun protection.

According to the Academy of Dermatology, squamous cell carcinoma, “the second most common type of cancer, mostly develops in people who have darker skin.” Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of cancer, “frequently develops in people who have fair skin.” However, “people who have skin of color also get this skin cancer.1

The bottom line: Daily sunscreen application is non-negotiable for every skin tone.

Mistake #2: Only using sunscreen when it’s sunny or when you’re outdoors

We know. Out of sight, out of mind — right? This isn’t really the case when it comes to the sun. Although you may not actually see or feel the sun while indoors or on a cloudy day, “harmful UV rays pass through windows and cloud cover,” says Dr. Howard.

The bottom line: Even if you can’t see the sun’s rays, they can see you, so be sure to apply sunscreen even when indoors.

Mistake #3: Not using enough sunscreen

So, how often should you apply sunscreen? It’s generally a good idea to reapply every two hours, but if you’ll be swimming or showering often throughout the day, you’ll want to repeat your sunscreen application directly after to stay protected.

Dr. Howard reminds us, “we should use about 2-3 tablespoons of sunscreen to cover an adult body”. If you’re wondering how much sunscreen is enough for your face, she recommends, “enough to cover your index and middle finger.”

The bottom line: The amount of sunscreen you need throughout the day will vary based on your activity, but the golden rule is to reapply every two hours.

Mistake #4: Not using the right level of SPF

Ever wondered, “What SPF do I need?” First, let’s get into why the sun protection factor (SPF) is important. Dr. Howard shares, “SPF measures how long it takes for skin to redden when using a sunscreen compared to how long it takes without it. For example, SPF 30 means it would take 30 times longer for your skin to burn than if you weren't wearing sunscreen. It is important to note that sunscreens do not always prevent sunburns,” says Dr. Howard.

To help decrease the risk of sunburn, a general rule of thumb is to look for an SPF of at least 30 to set skin up for success. Dr. Howard notes: “a 2014 study suggests that many of us don’t apply enough sunscreen, which means SPF is reduced. So choose the highest SPF you can.”

IT Cosmetics is proud to offer sunscreens for face with a high level of SPF protection. Our best-selling CC+ Cream foundations start with SPF 40, and our new invisible sunscreen, Hello Sunshine, provides SPF 50.

If you’re particularly concerned about sunburn, adding a layer of UV-protective clothing will also help.

The bottom line: Choosing a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher is a smart choice to stay well protected in the sun.

Mistake #5: Using sunscreen when it’s expired

As with other topical products, there’s a time when we must retire our favorites. Sad, we know–but it’s for good reason!

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “To make sure that your sunscreen is providing the sun protection promised in its labeling, the FDA recommends that you do not use sunscreen products that have passed their expiration date (if there is one), or that have no expiration date and were not purchased within the last three years.”

To make sure you’re not using sunscreen past its prime, take a look at the packaging and locate the expiration date. It’s usually somewhere on the back and towards the bottom of the bottle or carton. If there’s no date on the package, you’ll want to toss it unless you can confirm the manufacturing date.

To keep sun protection at its peak (even within the expiration period), the FDA recommends storing sunscreens out of direct sunlight, even when taking your sunscreen on the go.

The bottom line: Expired sunscreens should be discarded because there is no assurance that they remain safe and fully effective.2

Interested in learning more about the importance of sunscreen and sun protection? Check out SPF 101: Do I Need to Wear Sunscreen?

(1) American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Types of Skin Cancer.”

(2) U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun.”

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