Sorry, But You’re Probably Applying Your Sunscreen Wrong

Two top, celeb-approved dermatologists tell us how to do it right.

Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

I know: I kind of sound like a broken record here, but let me say it again: Sunscreen is super important! No one wants to experience a painful sunburn, plus protection from the sun is the best way to keep your skin healthy and youthful. But there's more to it than just slathering on your favorite mineral potion. We asked two top, celeb-approved dermatologist to tell us how to maximize your sunscreen and fully protect your skin.

Pay attention to the label

The number is most important: Dr. Patricia Wexler notes that only SPF 15 and above are safe and effective. You also want broad-spectrum UVA/UVB coverage, and it should be water-resistant for at least 40 to 80 minutes. Dr. Wexler also advises looking at the ingredients to see if it’s mineral- or chemical-based (see how to do that here), and decide which formula is most important to you.

How to choose mineral or chemical

Dr. Macrene Alexiades prefers mineral sunscreens because they work by reflecting light. "It does not absorbs into the tissue. That’s why mineral sunscreens are safer, they sit on top of the skin, but the chemical ones can get between the cells.” That said, mineral ones can very easily rub off, and aren’t waterproof. So, you have to be mindful of touching your face and body without reapplying mineral sunscreens.

Reapply often

Whichever you choose, make sure you reapply as needed. For mineral, don’t forget you have to apply prior to sun exposure so the minerals can activate. Dr. Macrene says to apply 15 minutes before you go in the sun, and reapply every two hours of sun exposure. And don’t forget to slather it on again after sweating or getting wet.

Look for the addition of antioxidant

Dr. Wexler notes that sunscreens with added antioxidants have more stability than those without, and they last slightly longer in sun exposure. She recommends EltaMD Skincare UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($27) because it’s fragrance-free and sensitive to skin types prone to acne breakouts. “It also contains lactic acid and niacinamide to refine skin texture and pigmentation and diminish the appearance and clogging of pores; and it dries matte,” she says. “At the same time, the hyaluronic acid leaves the skin hydrated and silky.”

Ditch last summer's bottle

Always have a bottle of sunscreen floating around in the back of your medicine cabinet? Same. Dunscreens are designed to remain at full strength for up to two years, says Dr. Wexler, but, “my health is more important than a tube of sunscreen,” she says. “I buy fresh at the beginning of the summer. If it’s used properly, you shouldn't have left over!”

Try a powder

We’ve already mused on about our love of powdered sunscreens—they’re great and super portable. Colorscience Sunforgettable Loose Mineral Sunscreen Brush Broad Spectrum SPF 50 ($65) is especially fabulous, and Dr. Wexler agrees. “This mineral-based, chemical-free sunscreen powder is always in my bag—it brushes on easily, allowing me to reapply constantly throughout the day without having to rub on another layer of lotion. It has the added benefit of absorbing oil and giving my skin a matte, smooth finish.”

Think beyond the topical products

Creams and powders are great, but you know what is even greater? Using UPF (Ultraviolet Protective Fabric) clothing, and a hat. For the hat, go glam, girl. We’re talking wide brim hat. Don’t be shy. The bigger, the better for your sun protection. (A baseball cap is great, but provides limited protection.)

UPF has sun protection worthy of SPF 50 or above. You can get sun umbrellas—both for walking down the street, shall you want to, or a large one for the beach—with UPF in them, both will majorly shield you from the sun. Or take the protection one step further, like Dr. Wexler does, and get some clothing with UPF, which will not require additional SPF on the covered skin when you’re wearing the UPF.

Whatever SPF—mineral, chemical, 15, 30, 50, powdered, creams, gels—just make sure you wear it. Nothing is more important to the vitality and longevity of your skin and health like sun protection.

Go out and have some fun:
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Published on June 29, 2018 - 8:20am EDT

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