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Don't Get Burned: 5 Sunscreen Mistakes You're Making

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Stay Safe

The slipup: Grabbing coffee without reapplying SPF
It's only a 10-minute walk. Surely that amount of sun can't hurt you. Wrong! "Every one of those 10-minute exposures does harm, because they accumulate and lead to DNA damage over time," says Elizabeth F. Callahan, MD, a FITNESS advisory board member and a dermatologist in Sarasota, Florida. A cloudy day isn't an exemption, notes Elizabeth K. Hale, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. "UVA rays penetrate the atmosphere 365 days a year and can accelerate premature aging of the skin and contribute to skin cancer development," she says.

Your skin-saving fix: If you applied broad-spectrum SPF in the morning, a touch-up before heading outside is a must if it's been two hours or more. "Keep a mineral-based sunscreen in your purse for easy reapplication," Dr. Hale says. Try a translucent formula such as Brush On Block Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen ($30,, and dust on a generous coating. A pressed-powder option: Shiseido Limited Edition UV Protective Compact Foundation Case SPF 36 ($36,

The slipup: Skipping SPF when you're indoors
When you know you'll be going from the car to the office and back again, it's tempting to forgo sunscreen altogether. The problem? UV light can travel right through the windows of your car and office, says Julie Ann Woodward, MD, an associate professor of ophthalmology and dermatology and the chief of oculofacial surgery at Duke University. "There are famous photographs of people who sat by the same window for years and got terrible sun damage on one side of their face and not on the other," she says.

Your skin-saving fix: Apply a mineral-based sunscreen in the morning. Choose one that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, which block the sun's rays, and you won't need to reapply it every two hours the way you would any other SPF, Dr. Woodward says. The reason: Nonmineral sunscreen has chemicals in it that act like a sponge to absorb UV radiation, she explains. Once "full" — usually after two or three hours — it needs to be reapplied. Mineral sunscreen, on the other hand, is like a mirror that reflects light off the surface of your skin. "It doesn't require reapplication as often," Dr. Woodward says. "To be safe, put it on in the morning and again before you head outdoors." Try Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense SPF 30 ($42, or MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Creme Broad Spectrum SPF 30 UVA-UVB Sunscreen ($32,

The slipup: Wearing only sunnies to protect your eyes
Your new sunglasses are supposed to block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays, but that's not always a sure thing. "The FDA isn't strict about regulating this, so that claim might not be accurate," Dr. Woodward says. Chronic sun exposure not only causes wrinkles around your eyes but also cataracts and cancer. "I find a lot of skin cancers right along the lash line," Dr. Woodward notes. And unless you wear wraparound sunglasses, the sides of your face will be exposed to the sun.

Your skin-saving fix: Coat the skin under your eyes and on your lids with new, nonirritating sunscreen formulas designed for the delicate eye area, Dr. Callahan says. Choose one that's mineral-based, which is gentler, and labeled "nonslip," meaning it won't migrate into your eyes. Try SkinCeuticals Physical Eye UV Defense ($30,

More Sun Blunders

The slipup: Running outside without a hat
If you have SPF on your face and body, it might seem okay to skip wearing a hat during your morning jog. Only it's not, says Dr. Hale, an avid runner. "Sweat accelerates the speed at which sunscreen breaks down, so you might not have as much coverage as you think," she explains. Plus, you're exposing the very vulnerable skin on your scalp to the sun. Hale routinely sees squamous cell carcinoma — the second most common type of skin cancer — along the part line. "Squamous cell is correlated with chronic sun exposure rather than a day at the beach," she says.

Your skin-saving fix: Double your efforts with a hat and sunscreen. Choose a hat that has ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), and shield your face, neck, ears and body with a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30. Swipe a sunscreen stick on burn-prone spots like your ears and nose. Try Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face & Body Stick Sunscreen SPF 70 ($10, drugstores). If you can't — or won't — wear a hat, apply sunscreen directly to your scalp, Dr. Callahan says. "Spritz a spray formula right on your part line," she advises. Try L'Oreal Paris Advanced Suncare Quick Dry Sheer Finish Spray SPF 50+ ($11, drugstores) or Banana Boat Sport Performance Clear UltraMist Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($8, drugstores).

The slipup: Relying on your makeup for coverage
You know by now that your foundation with SPF 12 isn't going to give you much protection, but what about those BB and CC creams that boast SPF 30? "The problem is, people don't usually apply enough to get the rating on the bottle," Dr. Callahan says.

Your skin-saving fix: Pick a BB or CC with SPF 50. "Don't go for the 20 or even 30, because you're not going to put on enough to get that number," Dr. Callahan says. "But if you apply one with SPF 50, you might walk away with SPF 30." Try Kate Somerville IllumiKate CC Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ ($48, If your application is light-handed, play it safe and apply a base coat of regular sunscreen — SPF 30 or higher — before putting on your makeup. Be sure to let the sunscreen layer dry for a few minutes or you'll dilute it, Dr. Callahan says. Try Coppertone ClearlySheer for Sunny Days SPF 30 ($9, drugstores), which has a lightweight matte finish that's perfect to wear under makeup. If your skin is dry, opt for a moisturizing formula, like Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration SPF 30 Face Lotion Sunscreen ($9, drugstores).

Bracelet with Benefits
According to a poll, a whopping 48 percent of women have had a blistering sunburn. That's why it's so important to reapply SPF every two hours. (However, if you've been sweating or swimming, reapply immediately afterward.) Since it's easy to lose track of time when you're having fun in the sun, this new accessory acts as a great reminder: June by Netatmo ($99,, a jeweled leather wrap bracelet that tracks your UV exposure and sends alerts to your smartphone via an app when it's time to hit the bottle again.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2014.