If you're slapping on sunscreen like you did five (even two!) years ago, you could be putting yourself at risk. New FDA guidelines, along with the latest research, show that the type of screen you choose, and the way you apply it, impacts your protection. Read this, then get back to having fun in the sun.
|Antioxidants Are Essential, Not Optional|
Scientists have long known that free radicals--those nasty little molecules that damage your skin's DNA--are produced by things like UV rays, pollution, and cigarette smoke. But now research is showing that certain sunscreens may be to blame as well.
A study from the Missouri University of Science and Technology found that zinc oxide (one of the most common and effective sunscreen ingredients) undergoes a chemical reaction that may produce free radicals when exposed to sunlight. But don't toss your supply of the stuff just yet.
"Zinc oxide is safe, and people don't need to stop using it," says Steven Q. Wang, M.D., director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "More important, any free radicals generated by zinc oxide are going to be much less dangerous than those generated by UV exposure."
That said, to get the most insurance, slather on an antioxidant serum every morning before your screen; ingredients like vitamin C, green tea, and resveratrol may help shield the skin from free radicals. Or you can multitask with a sunscreen that has antioxidants built in. Try Supergoop! SPF 30 Antioxidant-Infused Sunscreen Mist with Vitamin C ($19, nordstrom.com).
|2 Coats Is the New One Coat|
For proper protection, you need to apply a full ounce of sunscreen from head to toe--picture the amount in a shot glass. But this summer, make it a double.
"Most people use only a third to half as much sunscreen as they should be using, and they apply it unevenly," says Wang. "If you apply two coats, theoretically you're going to put on more and deliver it more evenly." (We know this might feel like a chore, but it's the best thing you can do to stay safe... unless you plan to hang indoors with the windows drawn all summer.)
To ensure you hit every last spot, start on the right side of your body--arms, shoulders, legs, etc.--then move to the left side, zeroing in on your chest, stomach, and back along the way. Once that's done, go back to the right side and repeat the process. Then take a much-deserved rest on the beach.
|Your Sunscreen Should Be Empty Before the Expiration Date|
Just as you wouldn't drink expired milk, you shouldn't hang on to sunscreen from three summers ago. The stuff has an expiration date printed on the bottle for a reason: After that time, there's no guarantee you're going to get the full SPF promised on the label. While sunscreens are usually good for a year, they should be long gone before then.
"If you still have sunscreen from last year, you're not using enough," says Mary Lupo, M.D., a professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine.
Think about it: If you're using the proper one ounce per application, plus another ounce every two hours when you reapply, a standard four-to six-ounce tube should disappear in a weekend, not a year (crazy but true!). What's more, the way we use and abuse our tubes can cause the goop inside to go bad faster.
"Sunscreen can break down and separate over time," says Lupo, who recommends keeping it in the shade when you're at the beach or pool and never stashing it in a hot car. Otherwise, you run the risk of speeding up its degradation--and threatening your protection.
|Nothing Is Truly Waterproof|
Or sweat-proof. Which is why you'll no longer find either of those claims on sunscreen bottles--the FDA now forbids it. Going forward, manufacturers can label products only as "water resistant" for 40 to 80 minutes--the amount of time a particular sunscreen has been tested and proven to offer protection in water.
Also consider this: After taking a quick dip, resist the urge to towel off.
"The combination of being in the water and toweling yourself afterward can really take off the sunscreen," says Lupo. "Let the water bead up and evaporate instead. You'll cool yourself off and preserve the sunscreen longer."
|Anything Under SPF 15 Is Useless|
If you've ever used a wimpy tube of SPF 8, thinking, Hey, at least I'm doing something, you're kidding yourself. Anything lower than SPF 15 can no longer claim to be broad-spectrum, which means it's offering protection only against UVB rays--the ones that burn. Low-SPF screens provide little to nothing to shield UVA rays, which are the insidious culprits of skin cancer and premature aging.
"SPF lower than 15 gives a false sense of security. People may not be burning because of the UVB protection, so they think they can stay out longer," says Lupo. "But then they're just spending more time getting more intense UVA exposure."
That's why, thanks to the new FDA rules, anything under SPF 15 must also state that it prevents against sunburns only, not skin cancer or signs of aging.
Another reason UVA protection is so crucial: "UVA decreases the activity of your T cells, which are the skin's immune system," says Lupo. "So at the same time that you are introducing DNA damage by getting sun, you're also crippling your skin's ability to fight that damage before it turns into skin cancer."
|SPF Benefits From the Buddy System|
Wearing sunscreen is a must (duh), but it's just the beginning.
"Sunscreen is never enough on intensely sunny days," says dermatologist Ellen Marmur, M.D., founder of Marmur Medical in New York City.
To thoroughly shield yourself, she suggests wearing a nonwoven wide-brim hat, sunglasses labeled with UVA and UVB protection ("The bigger, the better!" says Marmur), and a UV-protective rash-guard swim shirt over your bathing suit (it's estimated that a typical suit--without UV protection-has an SPF of around 5 when wet). And stay inside during the midday hours when it's most sunny.
You can also pop an antioxidant pill.
"I take oral Heliocare [$30 at drugstores] twice a day when I'm going to be out in the sun for a long time," says Lupo. "It's an oral antioxidant that seems to lessen free-radical damage from UV exposure."
You don't wear the same exact outfit every day of the week, so why do you still pull out that same bottle of sunscreen no matter what the occasion? Switch it up! Here's how to best shield yourself in any situation.
If You're Going to the Beach
Look for a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 50 that includes an ingredient such as avobenzone or zinc oxide to provide strong protection against the full range of UVA rays, says Wang.
Try Sun Bum Pro Premium Endurance Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($13, at trustthebum.com).
If You Want Something Ultra Natural
Look for an organic formula with a physical blocker such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Try Coola Mineral Face SPF 30 Matte Finish Cucumber Sunscreen ($36, coolasuncare.com), which contains 70 percent certified-organic ingredients.
If You're Going to the Office
Look for an SPF primer.
"You'll look flawless and also be protected," says Day. (For best results, layer your regular SPF moisturizer on top of the primer, before applying makeup.) And don't forget about reapplying: For a quick touch-up before heading out to lunch, dust on an SPF mineral powder. "It goes on over your makeup, so you don't have to worry about messing up your foundation," says Day.
Try Nars Pro-Prime Multi-Protect Primer SPF 30 Sunscreen ($34, sephora.com) and Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral Powder SPF 50 ($60, colorescience.com).
If You're Exercising Outdoors
Look for an SPF 50 "sports" sunscreen. They're usually water-resistant, plus they're tested on people who are exercising, so they've been proven to endure during workouts, says Day. If you sweat a lot and sunscreen tends to run into your eyes, Marmur recommends using a tear-free children's sunscreen stick on your forehead. "They're waxy, so they stay put, plus if you wipe or wash off your sweat and get some sunscreen in your eyes, it won't sting," she says.
Try Coppertone Sport Continuous Spray SPF 50 ($10, at drugstores) and Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen Stick SPF 60+ with Purescreen ($9, at drugstores).
If You're Breaking Out
Look for a lightweight, noncomedogenic gel. Day also suggests making sure you cleanse well at the end of the day to remove any remaining pore-clogging residue.
Try Bull Frog WaterArmor Sport Quik Gel Sunscreen SPF 50 ($11, at drugstore.com).