7 Sunscreen Mistakes That Hurt Your Skin

Wearing sunscreen is one of the healthiest things you can do for your skin. A good sunscreen with potent UVA and UVB protection can keep you from getting burned, minimize the development of wrinkles and other signs of aging, and can reduce your risk of skin cancer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That last part is important because more than 5 million new cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) are diagnosed each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends choosing a sunscreen that’s broad-spectrum and water-resistant, with an SPF of 30 of higher. Sandy Skotnicki, MD, a dermatologist in Toronto and author of Beyond Soap, recommends choosing a mineral sunscreen with zinc and titanium for everyday use. Mineral sunscreens, which are also known as physical sunscreens, shield the skin from the sun’s rays and tend to be less irritating and more moisturizing than chemical sunscreens, which work by absorbing the rays and converting them to heat in the body, according to Piedmont Healthcare.

Your job’s not done when you choose the perfect bottle, though. Too many people manage to mess up the application process — slathering on too little, skipping vulnerable spots, and more. The most serious result of forgoing sunscreen is developing skin cancer, but that’s not the only reason to apply it. According to the Cleveland Clinic, sunburns damage the skin cells and blood vessels, and can cause skin to look older, more wrinkled, dry, discolored, and leathery.

Dr Skotnicki agrees the aging effect of the sun’s rays is a key reason to be diligent about sunscreen application. “There are several large studies to show regular sunscreen use can decrease photoaging over time — redness, brown spots, and wrinkles,” she says. Take a study published in 2013 in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, for example. The researchers found UV exposure to be responsible for about 80% of visible signs of aging on the face.

Here, dermatologists share the biggest sunscreen slipups we tend to make, and how to outsmart them.

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