7 Sunscreen Mistakes That Hurt Your Skin

Going out into the sun means mandatory sunscreen. Harmful UVA and UVB rays can damage your skin causing early aging, wrinkling, and burns, thus raising the risk of developing skin cancer.

But just using sunscreen doesn't make it effective you are just slathering it on with no regard for how it should be applied. There are rules regarding sunscreen application that ensure your skin gets maximum coverage and protection.

This article details all the dos and don’ts of sunscreen application, to buffer your skin as you enjoy the sun.

Don’ts of Sunscreen Application

Don’t Use Expired Sunscreen

It may be cheaper and easy to just pick up that old bottle of sunscreen you have had lying around for ages, but it isn’t safe or useful.

Sunscreens usually have a shelf-life of about 2-3 years, but even during this period the temperature changes between the places they are stored and used e.g., the cupboard/washroom or the pool/beach can cause it to clump, or the oils may separate.

If you aren’t sure of the expiry date, it may be best to toss it. Chemicals disintegrate over time which means the sunscreen offers essentially zero protection. Alternatively, mark your bottle with the expiration date if it doesn’t come with one so you know when it’s time to get rid of it.

Don’t Skip Sunscreen Because You Underestimate the Risk

Many people don’t take the risk of not applying sunscreen seriously enough. There is a common perception that skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinomas are not as dangerous by virtue of being nonmelanomas i.e., occurring on the skin’s upper layers.

This perception arises from the fact that nonmelanomas can easily be excised through surgery or chemotherapy as compared to melanomas that spread to other organs and become life-threatening.

However, the longer you wait after spotting a suspicious mole, spot, wart, or growth, the more likely it is that the nonmelanomas will advance, and at a later stage the risk won’t be so low-grade nor will the prognosis be as good.

Some people don't like the way sunscreen feels or sits on their skin, as it could be greasy. You may also be worried that it will ruin your makeup.

But most makeup products and moisturizers don’t contain broad-spectrum protection or don’t have sun protection ingredients in sufficient concentration to defend your skin, making it crucial to apply sunscreen below your make-up.

Another common misconception is that the color of your skin or your ethnicity provides a reprieve from sunscreen use. While it is true that darker skin shades, having more melanin are less likely to burn, this doesn't mean that they are immune from the sun’s negative effects.

They are still equally vulnerable to UV rays, with detection of any symptoms like skin discoloration, moles, or spots becoming harder as changes are harder to identify. This in turn has been seen to cause a higher incidence of late-stage carcinomas due to delayed diagnosis and treatment.

Don’t Restrict Yourself to Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a good shield from the sun, but you should supplement it with additional protective measures like sunhats with wide rims, sunglasses preferably with UV protection, and breathable, lightweight, and covered clothing preferably with a UPF i.e., an ultraviolet protection factor label.

Plus make sure you don't go out in the sun at peak times like between 11 am to 3 pm during which sun rays are the harshest.

Don’t Be Stingy with Sunscreen

Using just a smidgeon of sunscreen not only gives you minimal protection but will also leave white streaks on your skin.

You should use at least an ounce of sunscreen, and smooth it evenly over all the exposed areas, especially often-forgotten areas like your elbows, ankles, feet, ears, and the back of your neck.

Dos of Sunscreen Application

Do Apply Sunscreen on Cloudy Days

Sunscreen isn't just for bright, sunny days or when you are at the beach. 80% of the sun’s rays will filter through even the thicket cloud, and even though UVB rays may diminish slightly during the winter, UVA rays are still at full strength.

It’s also good to put on a coat of sunscreen when indoors during particularly hot, sunny days when the rays come in through the window.

Do Reapply Sunscreen at Regular Intervals

Regardless of the SPF of your sunscreen, it doesn’t protect you the entire day.

Ideally, you must reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours, if not more frequently especially when you are being very active in the sun such as swimming, running, surfing, playing sports or even driving on a sunny day (the sun will reach you through your windows and windshield).

Most sunscreens offer about 40 minutes of protection and water resistance, although some go up to 80 minutes.

Do Use the Right SPF

Depending on your skin type and sensitivity, you will need to pick the apt sun protection factor i.e., SPF.

This depends on how easily you burn and also whether your skin is on the oily or dry side – for the former mattifying SPFs work well, whereas moisturizing SPFs are good for the latter.

You should always use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, which is also water-resistant and broad spectrum i.e., it shields against UVA and UVB rays.

SPF goes up to 100, but some studies suggest that anything above SPF 50 doesn’t offer any additional protection, although SPFs higher than 50 may be filtering out more UVB rays. SPF 15-20 lip balms will protect your lips from drying out, getting chapped, and discolored.


Apply sunscreen at least 15-20 minutes prior to going out in the sun to allow for proper absorption and less wastage through smearing on your clothes or the car seat. It's always best to go for liquid/lotion-like sunscreens, rather than sprays, sticks, or wipes because the last three options provide only a thin layer of protection that comes off easily.

It is also preferable to use sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide i.e., mineral sunscreens as opposed to chemical sunscreens that cause body heat and may also have toxic ingredients.

Updated on: 04-Apr-2023


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