Think you’re pretty sun savvy? Think again, says Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist in Toronto. “Skin cancer is the most common cancer – 80,000 Canadians are diagnosed with it every year,” she says. Part of the reason for the rising number of skin cancer cases is that people make three major mistakes when applying sunscreen:
1. They think they’re protected when they’re not: “People assume that the SPF in their moisturizer or foundation is adequate coverage (it usually isn’t) and that a sunscreen is necessary only when it’s sunny and warm,” says Dr. Kellett. But, she says, sunscreen should be applied daily, year round – and at least 15 minutes before you head outdoors so that you’re fully protected the moment you step outside.
2. They forget to “slather” it on: To properly protect your body, you need at least a full palm of sunscreen to ensure you cover the whole area, says Dr. Kellett. “Then, use a quarter-size amount for your face and neck–and don’t forget about layering an SPF on your lips and the tips of your ears as well.”
3. They miss a spot – or two: People often miss hard-to-reach areas, such as the back of the neck, hands and calves. “If you can’t reach, ask a friend for help or cover up with clothing.”
When it comes to buying the best sunscreen, Dr. Kellett says there’s no need to spring for SPF 60. “If SPF 30 sunscreen is applied properly, there is practically no difference between sunscreens with an SPF of 30 and an SPF of 60,” she says. “The difference in protection is 97 per cent for the 30 SPF versus 98 per cent for the 60 SPF–so the most important thing is to apply it and to apply it properly.”
It’s also important to find a sunscreen that suits your skin type (otherwise you won’t use it). Here’s what to look for if you have:
Oily skin: Alcohol-based sprays are best for oilier skin.
Dry skin: Opt for a richer, creamier sunblock that will keep skin hydrated.
Sensitive skin: Look for an SPF with titanium dioxide, a physical as opposed to chemical sunscreen ingredient that is unlikely to irritate sensitive skin.
Skin prone to breakouts: Choose an oil-free formula, preferably gel or alcohol based.
It’s especially important to keep children protected as they get the majority of their sun exposure by the age of 18, says Dr. Kellett. Infants have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin (a natural chemical in skin that absorbs UV rays), so their skin burns more easily. However, you shouldn’t put sunscreen on babies who are younger than six months old. “Children should be kept out of the sun until the age of six months,” says Dr. Kellett. “Even after that, great caution should be used in babies as sunscreen does not totally protect them from the sun’s rays.”
In addition to a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30, she recommends kids (and adults!) wear sun-protective clothing and a hat with a brim wide enough to shade their face, neck and chest.