The 9 biggest sun protection mistakes you're making

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For years we’ve been told by experts that wearing SPF daily is the ultimate preventative for skin cancer and skin aging. But if you think just one application of sunscreen in the morning is going to cut it, well, think again.

According to medical and cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Sonya Abdulla of Dermatology on Bloor in Toronto, just as you would target and treat other skin concerns, sun care comes with steps, rules, and other products to keep in mind.

After getting some pro-tips from Abdulla, I realized that there are some pretty substantial mistakes I didn’t even realize I was making. If you’re like me and just starting to take sun protection seriously, scroll through to find out what sun protection mistakes you’re probably making too.

Mistake no. 1: Applying your sunscreen once you get to the beach or pool

“Newer sunscreens typically start protecting on contact with the skin. There is little to no delay for them to start working if applied uniformly and in adequate amounts. The bigger challenge is the human factor - we all spend time scouting out the perfect location at the pool, beach or sporting event, then getting settled in,” Abdulla explains. “On average, this takes 20 minutes – more than enough time to sunburn.”

Solution: Lather up before you head out, this ensures your sunscreen is applied to all hard to reach parts.

Mistake no. 2: Not re-applying sunscreen

Current guidelines suggest that sunscreen should be re-applied every 2 hours – this largely because the original sunscreen formulations were not photostable, meaning that they would break down with sun exposure,” says Abdulla. “Newer, innovative sunscreen formulations with UVA and UVB filters are stable with sun exposure but we rarely apply enough sunscreen the first time around and often skip areas, hence the awkward sunburn or skip areas.”

Solution: Re-apply sunscreen whenever and as much as you can to avoid sunburns, especially after water exposure or intense sweating. If you’re big on outdoor activities in the summer, we recommend using a water-proof formula.

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Mistake no. 3: Priming your sun tan with a bed tan

“Artificial tanning has fallen completely out of favour,” Abdulla says. “Using a tanning bed before the age of 35 years increases your risk of melanoma by 59 per cent, and continues to increase with each use.”

Solution: To help maintain a long-lasting bronze complexion sans sun exposer and a tanning bed, you can’t go wrong with a good self-tanner.

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Mistake no. 4: Not using after-sun care

“If you have fallen victim to the sun, soothe your sunburn with gentle after-sun skincare products containing ingredients such as aloe vera or green tea extract. Be sure to moisturize regularly in the days post and do not peel or pick the skin,” Abdulla recommends.

Solution: For some after-sun care product suggestions, be sure to check out our picks here.

Mistake no. 5: Assuming your clothes protect you from the sun

“A standard weave T-shirt confers an SPF between 4-8. Pretty shocking! This is where UV protective clothing is relevant for actual sun protection,” Abdulla advises. “Look for UV protective clothing, including broad-brimmed hats, bathing suits and other styles of clothing with UPF 50+ for added physical protection. UPF can be loosely correlated with SPF, where an UPF 50+ confers UV protection of 97.5 per cent. Be mindful that UPF is evaluated only when clothing is dry so clothing with a tighter weave and denser fabric tends to be better.”

Solution: Be prepared to replace this clothing intermittently for maximum protection.

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Mistake no. 6: Thinking your makeup SPF provides enough protection

Sunscreen included in make-up may only provide partial protection from UV exposure. Remember that SPF only reflects protection against UVB rays – not UVA,” warns Abdulla. “This is relevant since 95 per cent of UV exposure is ultraviolet A, and most cosmetics do not contain specific UVA filters. Studies have also shown that intuitively, we do not apply a sufficient amount of cosmetic product to correlate with the SPF on packaging, so protection may be as little as 50 per cent of the SPF label.”

Solution: For ultimate face sun protection, use both a sunscreen designed for face and body and SPF-infused makeup.

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Mistake no. 7: Wearing sunglasses only as a fashion statement

Eyes are equally susceptible to sun damage. Repeated sun exposure to the eyes is associated with increased rates of cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as damage to the cornea and non-melanoma skin cancers of the eyelid,” says Abdulla.

Solution: Shop for large-frame sunglasses with maximum UVR protection (99-100 per cent) as well as visible light protection.

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Mistake no. 8: Shaving before a swim or the beach

Abdulla says that “Shaving creates areas of microtrauma to the skin, creating portals of entry for bacteria resulting in razor bumps or folliculitis. Skin may also be more sensitive to sunscreen and other exposures immediately post-shave.”

Solution: Shave four to six hours ahead of exposure and follow-up with a gentle moisturizer post-shave to limit the risk of infection and irritation. We suggest using an aloe vera cream.

Mistake no. 9: Not wearing retinol in the summer

“Retinol and retinoids can be used year-round,” explains Abdulla. “Retinol and retinoids are major workhorses in dermatology for treatment of acne, hyperpigmentation as well as their anti-aging benefits. Longterm use of retinol and retinoids also prevents precancerous sun damage and some non-melanoma skin cancers.”

Solution: Apply retinol and retinoids before bed to prevent breakdown of the molecule by UV light exposure. Like any skincare product, retinol and retinoids should only be used as tolerated (most common side effects include exfoliation and irritation). As long as adequate sun protection is used throughout the day and you continue to tolerate your skincare routine, retinol and retinoids can be continued year-round.

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