I live in Las Vegas and the sun is so crazy hot here! We have 110 or more Fahrenheit in the summer! Not just here but everywhere you have to apply sunscreen. There’s lifesaving reason to: about 3.5 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year. The incidence of skin cancer, including melanoma—the deadliest kind—is going up, and wearing sunscreen is one of the best ways to prevent it!
Finding your sunscreen soul mate is the key motivating factor for using it regularly, experts agree. “If you think your sunscreen is pasty, thick or smelly, you have the wrong kind,” says Jeffrey Dover, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Yale University. “It may make you less likely to put it on, or to reapply when you do.”
As a general rule, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. Doctors now typically recommend at least SPF 30—at least being the key words. If you have a family history of skin cancer or are vacationing in a tropical spot (where the sun is especially intense), go for 50 or even 70.
No sunscreen provides 100 percent protection. So to be as safe as possible, you still need to reapply every two hours and after a swim, even if you used the water-resistant kind, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Think you apply enough? Almost no one does. “Several big studies show that most people rub in only about a fourth of what’s needed to reach the labeled SPF,” notes Dr. Dover. Instead of that old advice to use a shot glass–size dose, all our experts recommend applying two coats. Squeeze a line of lotion down your arms and legs and rub in, then do it again.
Ditto for spray formulas: Hold the nozzle close to your skin and spritz, moving slowly up and down until you see a sheen, then go back over the area. For your face, apply a pea-size drop to each cheek, your forehead and your chin, then smear in. Repeat!
People apply sunscreen to their face, but either skip or speed over their nose—especially if they wear glasses, because they don’t want to take them off,” Dr. Wang says. Adds Dr. Moy, “80 percent of the skin cancers I remove are on the nose.” Other commonly missed areas include the feet, hair part, ears and chest, as well as the backs of hands and legs.
Since rays can still get through sunscreen, companies are now including antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and green tea to help mitigate damage.
Realize that sunscreen is only one part of a sun-smart plan. The hierarchy of sun protection should be avoidance first, then seek shade and wear a wide-brim hat and protective clothing, then use sunscreen—but most people have that sequence backward.
Consider hitting the beach or pool in the morning instead of midday (when sun is strongest), and bring an umbrella and a tightly woven long-sleeve shirt.