From using too little to using the wrong ones, here are the surprisingly common SPF mistakes the experts want you to know about - and how to fix them
Experts are in agreement - sun protection is the skincare step we should all be incorporating into our regimes no matter our age and no matter our skin tone. And for just reason. While in the short-term, too much sun can lead to sunburn , dehydration and peeling, in the long-term, it can lead to premature ageing and worst of all, skin cancer.
While what we use is pivotal to the puzzle, how we use it is also key. A duo of dermatologists answer our most burning questions to reveal the biggest sun care mistakes they’re tired of seeing time and time again - and what to do instead.
1. You’re not using enough
This is perhaps the most commonly made mistake. How do you know if you’re using enough? Size up your serving of sunscreen against the following guide from consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, Dr Anjali Mahto:
“The average-sized adult should apply more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen (about 3ml) to each arm and the face/neck, and just over one teaspoon (6ml) to each leg, the front of the body and the back of the body.”
2. You’re forgetting to reapply
SPF needs repeat top-ups to give skin sufficient protection against UV rays. This also applies to sunscreens that claim to last all day. “I’m extremely suspicious of these and advise that you always reapply every two to three hours,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth . “I don’t think there is any substitute for frequent reapplication.”
The same goes for sunscreens that claim to be water-resistant too. “Despite what the packaging promises, swimming, sweating, rubbing or towelling down means you will end up removing the sunscreen from your body,” says Dr Mahto. In short, best to be safe and reapply every couple of hours or after any sporting activity to avoid risk of burnout. If you need something to prompt you (or your kids), Garnier Ambre Solaire has just launched a new Sun Safe UV Patch that sticks to your skin and changes colours throughout the day to indicate your level of UV exposure. It comes free with Ambre Solaire sunscreens and is available exclusively at Tesco.
3. You’re using SPF mists as your sole mode of protection
Sun care formulations have come leaps and bounds over the years with mists, sprays and SPF powders proving to be particularly refreshing developments. A degree of caution should be exercised when using them though. “While mists are super convenient, there are genuine concerns that this mode of application results in a far lower dosage of product and therefore less protection,” warns Dr Wedgeworth. “It has been estimated, that most people only apply approximately a quarter of the recommended amount, which actually only affords 75 per cent of the SPF on the label.”
Your best bet is to use a sun cream as your first port of call as you’ll be better able to see how much you’ve used for a better level coverage. That’s not to say though that mists can’t still have a place in your sun protection artillery. Dr Wedgeworth highlights that they can be useful as a quick on-the-go SPF top-up if you don’t want to mess up your makeup during the day. Ensure to apply a full, even coat though. One of our favourites is Garnier Ambre Solaire Sensitive Advanced Face Protection Mist SPF50 , £6.
4. You’re relying on the SPF in your makeup
While sun protection via your makeup acts as a useful way to boost your skin’s UV shield, it shouldn’t be its sole form of defence. The main reason for this is differences between how we apply our base vs how we apply and reapply our sunscreen. As Emma explains: “The SPF in the product is calculated on the application of 2mg/cm2 - for your face, this is approximately half a teaspoon, far more foundation than most people would use.”
Due to how important UV protection is in maintaining healthy skin, it’s not worth compromising on. “Get used to using your sun protection as makeup, rather than the other way around,” she advises. “There are some amazing tinted sun protections that have channeled all the latest technologies to produce products that are cosmetically elegant, with broad spectrum protection.” A great example of this is Avene’s new Tinted Mineral Fluid SPF50+ , £17.50.
5. You’re relying on the SPF in your moisturiser
“The right sun protection can act as a moisturiser, but the other way around is not acceptable,” says Dr Wedgeworth and while there’s an argument to say that something is better than nothing, a separate sunscreen provides more comprehensive protection. Dr Wedgeworth’s top broad spectrum picks include NeoStrata’s mattifying Sheer Physical Protection SPF50 , £30.99, Skinceuticals Sheer Mineral UV Defence SPF50 , £37, and Clinique City Block SPF40 , £19.
6. You’re using your body sunscreen on your face
This is less to do with the protection it gives and more about how well equipped a body sunscreen is in meeting the skincare needs of your face. “Facial skin is more sensitive than body skin, particularly around the eyes, and can be prone to breakouts,” says Dr Wedgeworth. “In addition, most of us are looking for a different cosmetic result with our facial skincare, compared to our body.” Chances are that if your sunscreen causes flare-ups, you’ll be less inclined to apply it as regularly as you should.
7. You’re forgetting some important sunburn hotspots
We all know about slapping sunscreen on our face, arms and legs, but what about the lesser known areas that most of us miss? The list of the most common hotspots might surprise you.
First, the eyelids. “Eyelid cancers account for about five to ten per cent of all skin cancers and occur most frequently on the lower eyelid,” says Dr Mahto. “The best defence against this is to wear sunglasses that offer adequate protection against UVA and UVB which cover as much skin as possible.” An SPF eye cream can also act as a useful extra line of defence.
Next, the backs of the knees, the most common site for melanoma in females (who knew?).
The ears are another high-risk area (“The third most common place on the body to develop basal cell carcinomas,” highlights Dr Mahto) as well as the tops of the feet, sides of the face, hands, chest and underarms.
The scalp and hair are also usually overlooked. While a hat is the best form of protection (especially if you have fine or thinning hair), SPF hair mists and creams can lend a helping hand. Don’t forget about protecting your neck too - hair alone is unlikely to provide the requisite amount of cover as it moves so frequently.
And finally, don’t forget your lips. “The lips are often an overlooked site for non-melanoma skin cancer,” cautions Dr Mahto and so she advises applying a photoprotective lip block or lip balm to block UV rays. Check out our pick of the best SPF lip balms to find out about our tried and tested favourites.
8. You’re not applying your SPF last
Incorrect layering is a sun protection faux pas that Dr Mahto sees happen time and time again. It should be the last step in your skincare regime to provide optimum protection: “Moisturise first, then apply sunscreen afterwards followed by makeup if you choose,” she advises.
The only exception to this rule though is when using insect repellent. Dr Wedgeworth recommends applying sunscreen beforehand. “Apply a generous layer of sunscreen and then allow it to absorb into the skin for 10 minutes,” she says. “Then apply insect repellent. Remember though that unlike insect repellent, sunscreen will need to be reapplied every couple of hours.”
9. You’re not replacing your sunscreen often enough
Stowing away your bottle of sunscreen at the back of your cupboard until your next holiday? Stop right there. Before you do, check its ‘period-after-opening’ symbol (the open jar) at the back to see when you’ll need to restock your supplies. If used when past its best, its protection won’t be as potent as it was during the holiday before.
Read more: The best sunscreens for dark skin tones