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When it comes to caring for your body’s largest organ, there’s nothing more important for your skin than SPF. In theory, it’s something that most of us understand the significance of, but in practice it can be a totally different story.
While wearing sunscreen year-round is the goal, it's even more important to protect your skin throughout the warmer months, since the sun’s rays are both stronger during spring and summer, and out for longer periods of time. But as someone who was late to the game at incorporating regular sunscreen application into my daily routine, I completely understand the hurdles that individuals face (and the excuses we might have) for not wearing it as often as we should.
In order to get the scoop on the best ways to stay safe from the sun this season, I chatted with Dr. Julia Carroll, a dermatologist and representative from the Melanoma Network of Canada (MNC) for the biggest SPF mistakes to avoid.
Mistake no. 1: Not applying or reapplying enough sunscreen
When it comes to sunscreen, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not using enough of it. While a dollop may seem like enough, you actually want to aim for a golf ball-sized amount of product to thoroughly cover your face and body — even on overcast days, since damaging UV rays are able to penetrate through clouds.
If you’re spending the day outdoors, you’ll also want to make sure that you re-apply your sunscreen every two hours or so, since it does wear off over time.
“Sunscreen acts a bit like a sponge, so it absorbs,” explains Carroll. “If there’s more [sun] for it to absorb, you’ll wear through it faster. If there’s less for it to absorb, you won’t wear through it quite as quickly.”
Mistake no. 2: Thinking you’re allergic to sunscreen
According to Carroll, that rash you think is caused simply by wearing sunscreen may actually be due to other factors than an allergic reaction.
“Sometimes you’ll be out in the sun, you’ll put the product on, and you’ll get some redness," she says. "Often [that’s] probably poor application or expired sunscreens, or people that don’t reapply so they’re interpreting a sunburn as an allergic reaction.”
The best way to avoid redness is to ensure that you’re applying enough sunscreen to thoroughly cover your face and body, and to use a fresh product that hasn’t been compromised. Keeping sunscreen out of direct heat is one of the best ways to protect your sunscreen from expiring quickly, since heat and light can cause it to break down more quickly than storing it in a cool and dark place.
If you do have sensitive skin that’s prone to breakouts or reactions, Carroll recommends opting for a mineral-based, or physical sunscreen, which she says tends to be less irritating.
Mistake no. 3: Focusing only on the face
While the face is one area that often gets the most attention, it's just as important to protect the rest of your body from the sun. Areas like the tops of your scalp, ears, back of the neck, and feet are just some of the often overlooked spots that can easily become sunburnt.
To combat missed spots, Carroll recommends starting your day by applying a base layer of sunscreen to your entire body as soon as you step out of the shower in the morning.
“If you’re already dressed in your outfit, you don’t want to get sunscreen all over you. If you can put it on in the morning when you’re just out of the shower, you’re more likely to get it down your neck and down your chest and get at all the [important] areas,” she says. “I really like starting with a cream-based sunscreen and then touching up with a spray throughout the day.”
In case you’re looking to update your collection of sunscreen this year and stay sun-safe, Carroll has one final piece of advice: “One of my favourite things to tell patients is that the best sunscreen is the one you’re willing to put on.”
Whether you're looking for the best sunscreen for babies and toddlers, or for yourself, shop some of our favourite sunscreens of the season below.