Here's What We Get Wrong About Sunscreen

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I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of you are regular sunscreen wearers—or, at the very least, you know that it’s important and try to wear it whenever you’re spending extended periods of time outdoors, right? Because we’re older and wiser (and more concerned with how we’re aging) now.

Maybe you’ve even come across that infamous image of the truck driver, whose face has become a cautionary tale for what happens when you get too much sun exposure over time. On that note, does anyone know how Mr. McElligott is doing now? I hope he’s well…and that the New England Journal of Medicine is paying him residuals for that photo.

Anyway, it just so happens that May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so I figured it was as good a time as any to address some of the most common misconceptions I’ve heard about sunscreen over the years:

  1. Sunscreen isn’t seasonal, y’all. You really should wear it year-round. Rain, snow, fog or shine. Just because the UV rays aren’t blasting in your face doesn’t mean they aren’t sneakily hiding behind a cumulus. Or a stratus. I’m a cloud gal, what can I say?
  2. The “right” or “best” kind of sunscreen is one you actually enjoy putting on your skin. Luckily, they’ve gotten so much better since our days at summer camp. Whether it’s chemical or physical or a combo of both, make sure your sunscreen clearly says the words “broad-spectrum” on it, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays (UVA for aging, UVB for burn).
  3. Use a SPF of at least 30 for a regular day of say, working from home and running a quick errand or two around town, and a minimum of SPF 50 if you’re headed outdoors for anything more than that.
  4. Don’t skimp on your application. For your face and neck, most dermatologists recommend applying a nickel-sized amount—or the length of your index and middle fingers (aka the peace sign!) For the rest of your body, aim for one full shot glass worth of SPF. And if you’re ever in doubt, overshoot.
  5. Reapplication is important. I struggle with this too, guys. If we’re being A+ students here, we’re supposed to reapply our sunscreen every two hours, but more often if we’re sweating or in water. A few things that have helped me over the years include using a SPF mist, powder or stick when I’m reapplying over any makeup, wearing makeup with SPF built into it, and wearing more hats and protective clothing.

Want some specific sunscreen recs? I got you covered.

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We Ask a Derm: How Do You Prevent Your Sunscreen from Pilling?

Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...