You’ve finally swapped SPF for baby oil, but are you making sure that all the careful planning and good intentions aren’t going to waste? Here are the eight most common sunscreen slip-ups, and how to make sure you avoid them.
#1 You don’t apply SPF to small areas
It's easy to forget your ears, lips, toes, and hands, but they're equally as prone to skin cancer as the rest of your body. In fact, lips and ears are two of the most common places it’s found. To make sure you’re protected, do a quick check of all these spots each time you apply—and reapply. For quick touch-ups, throw a waxy sunscreen stick, like Coppertone Sports Stick SPF 55 into your bag and smooth it on and in-between toes, on ears, and hands, where a waxy formula will hold up better to washing. Look for lip balm that contains SPF, like Kiehls Lip Balm SPF 15, and don't forget to wear sunglasses. UV rays can cause cataracts (as well as eye cancer for those with lighter colored eyes), so make sure your eyes are protected.
#2 You don’t apply enough product
“Most women will buy SPF 30, but use so little of it that they’re only getting half of that SPF, or even less,” says dermatologist Kathy Fields. Don’t cheat yourself; apply a shot-glass full of sunscreen to cover your full body and face. A quick way to figure out if you’re using enough is to see how many ounces your bottle of sunscreen provides, and do some division to figure out how long it will last you. For example, if you’re using an 8-ounce bottle, you shouldn’t have any left over after eight applications.
#3 You don’t realize that skincare products are making your skin more sensitive
If part of your beauty routine includes products that deeply exfoliate the skin—like retinoids or salicylic acid—your skin is more prone to burning and skin cancer. Be diligent by applying SPF 30 several times a day, even when you’ll be indoors. “You’d be amazed how much UV damage you get through your windows,” says Fields. “Just look at the left side of your body compared to your right—it has more sun damage just from time you’ve spent driving without wearing sunscreen.”
#4 You don’t apply on a cloudy day
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through the clouds. So don’t be fooled just because the sun’s not shining. If you’re at the beach on a less-than-perfect day, you get even more exposure since sand reflects 25 percent of the sun’s rays back up at you.
#5 You forget to protect your hair
Granted, your hair can’t burn or develop cancer, but it can become dry and brittle. Plus, UV-rays sap color right out of your strands, causing locks to lose their luster. Spray a light, non-greasy, alcohol-free formula like Sundition SPF 15 Scalp Sunscreen onto tresses to keep them shiny and frizz-free. Make sure you take aim at your scalp too, paying extra attention to your part and any other exposed or thinning areas.
#6 You don’t reapply
No matter how good the sunscreen, it won’t do its job past the 2-hour mark, even if you’re just wearing it to work. “Between talking on the phone, wiping your mouth with a napkin, and just touching your face, it will rub off,” says Fields. “When you’re at the beach or pool, that happens even faster because you’re sweating, getting wet, and rubbing it off with your towel.”
#7 You apply it when you’re already outside
Sunscreens that use chemical UV ray blockers, like avobenzone, need at least 15 to 20 minutes to absorb into the skin before they’re effective. Plus, the best way to get full coverage is to apply head-to-toe protection before you get dressed so you don’t miss a spot. The one exception: If you’re using sunscreen with zinc or titanium dioxide (both physical blocks).
#8 You use a spray, but don't rub it in
The good news: Sunscreen sprays are a fast, convenient way to reapply your SPF without getting your hands dirty. And since many adhere to wet skin, they’re a no-brainer if you’re at the pool or beach. Now for the bad news: When you’re spraying instead of applying with your hands, you can easily miss a spot or not use enough. To make sure you’re getting enough coverage, take a few seconds to rub it in to make sure the application is even and accurate.
Are you guilty of these sunscreen mistakes?

Image Credit: iStockphoto/Thinstock