Sticks, sprays, gels, lotions—there are more sunscreen choices than ever to suit your preference and skin type. How do you decide? And once you do, how do you use it correctly? With a false sense of protection, you're putting yourself at a greater risk for sunburn and skin cancer. Here's what you should know for the summer.
Problem 1: You thought you were doing it all right, but you're still getting burnt.
Here are the ground rules: Choose a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage against both UVA and UVB rays with at least SPF 30 protection. A golf ball–size amount of liquid sunscreen is enough for the entire body, while a nickel-size dollop is what you should be using on your face. Apply, then reapply every two hours. Chemical sunscreen ingredients (carbon compounds made in a lab) degrade over time—the sun can decompose the chemicals protecting you. Physical blocker sunscreens (natural minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), on the other hand, can clump on the skin, altering their effectiveness. Finally, don't rely solely on sunscreen—be smart and exercise sun-protective behavior. Avoid peak sun hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wear UV-protecting hats, glasses, and clothing. Sit in the shade whenever you can.
Problem 2: You're applying your sunscreen spray the same way you put on your perfume.
Spray sunscreen formulations are a great option to quickly cover large body areas like arms and legs. They can even be a go-to for hairy skin surfaces, like your boyfriend's arms, or yes, an unshaven back. However, to make sprays effective, you need to put a little effort into them. Hold the can an inch or two from the skin and spray until your skin glistens. Yes, glistens. If you don't see the sunscreen on the skin, then it is not there. For those of you who need extra help seeing the sunscreen, a spray lotion can also be useful for dry skin (try Avène Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion Spray SPF 50+).
Problem 3: Your feet remind you of the sandals you were wearing last weekend.
If you're getting tan lines, then you are not properly protecting those body parts from the sun. You need to apply sunscreen to the skin under and around thin straps and chains. Your best bet is to put on your sunscreen before your shoes or jewelry to ensure you are covering the entire area. When reapplying, make sure to move the jewelry over so you don't end up with any missed skin.
Problem 4: You use the same sunscreen for your whole body.
While a single bottle of sunscreen can be used all over, certain body parts have special needs. Feel free to mix it up and treat different areas with different products. If you find sunscreen makes your hands sticky, consider a stick for your fingers (try Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face + Body Stick). Four passes back and forth with a stick ensures you are putting on enough without making you feel greasy. Another hard-to-treat area is your scalp—we all know the dreaded hair-part burn. Gels and sprays get through the hair and onto the scalp more easily. Plus they can be used on your front hairline, another frequently missed spot.
Problem 5: Sunscreen makes your face break out.
Warm weather, combined with sweat, dirt, and oil production may lead to acne breakouts. The wrong sunscreen can double your risk by blocking pores. Look for a sunscreen labeled "noncomedogenic," meaning it has been tested and shown not to block your pores. Many sunscreens for acne-prone skin may also be labeled as oil-free (try EltaMD UV Clear).
Problem 6: Sunscreen gives you a rash.
It's OK to baby your skin, even as an adult. For sensitive skin types, choose a sunscreen that contains only physical blocker sunscreen ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients are much less likely to irritate sensitive skin. Or look for sunscreens labeled as "for kids" or "for babies"—they are 100 percent fine to use on grown-up skin (try Aveeno Baby Natural Protection).
Problem 7: Sunscreen messes with your makeup.
Spend half an hour getting your makeup ready for the day? In that case you may not be excited to apply sunscreen over your face during your outdoor lunch break. But the sunscreen protection you applied in the morning may not be enough for peak sun. Try a sunscreen powder or a setting mist with SPF. These can give you an added boost when you need it, keeping your makeup just as you left it (try Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral Powder).