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Derms hate when you make these 8 SPF mistakes — here's what to do instead

Sunscreen is the most important accessory you can wear this summer.
Woman spraying sunscreen on her face
Vivian Le/ TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

Do you ever see someone with a sunburn and just cringe? It’s a pain that words can’t describe and we’ve all been there before. But rather than simply accepting sunburns as an undesirable part of summer, you can fight back.

Most sunburns result from a few common sunscreen faux pas, and you can nip them in the bud by refreshing yourself on the ABC's of SPF. To help break it all down, we consulted a few skin care savants to share some common sunscreen mistakes they see all the time. We're also sharing some handy products to help you enjoy some (safe) fun in the sun!

Sunscreen mistake No. 1: Not applying before you go in the sun

Planning some fun in the sun? Don't forget to lather up before you head outdoors.

"As a topical skin care product, all sunscreen needs 15 to 20 minutes to set up as an even film on the skin for adequate coverage," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch explains.

According to the skin care pro, that rule applies to both physical (mineral) and chemical sunscreens.

"It's a common sunscreen myth that you don't need to apply physical sunscreen before sun exposure because it functions like a shield versus chemical products that work right away," she says.

Sunscreen mistake No. 2: Not applying enough

Even if you have good intentions, sunscreen won't do you any good if you don't apply enough of it.

"For one area of your body, you should be using about one shot glass of sunscreen per body part (i.e. face, arm, leg etc.)" dermatologist and owner of Park Ave Dermatology Dr. Bradley Glodny says.

Applying the right amount helps ensure that you achieve the sun protective factor (or SPF) of your sunscreen, according to Medical and Aesthetic Dermatologist Kiran Mian, who recommends using 2 mg. per centimeter squared of skin.

Sunscreen mistake No. 3: Not reapplying

Applying sunscreen is hardly a "one-and-done" activity. Once you rub it into your skin, the product is only active for a limited amount of time.

"Sunscreen lasts for about two hours. If you apply it in the morning, that's great for your morning commute, but by lunchtime, it is no longer working. Reapplication is key for adequate protection throughout the day," Mian explains.

Reapplying every two hours is a good rule of thumb, but you should break out the sunscreen bottle more often if you've been swimming or sweating.

"Many sunscreens wash off with water exposure. Applying sunscreen at the beach is great, but after a dip or swim, reapplying is key! Water-resistant sunscreens can help, but even those are not foolproof. For beach days, I recommend UPF rash guards," Mian says.

Sunscreen mistake No. 4: Not applying sunscreen to certain areas

Think some areas of your body simply don't need sun protection? Think again. The following spots are regularly overlooked even though they're also prone to sunburns:

  • Top of ears
  • Tip of nose
  • Eyelids
  • Back of neck
  • Lips
  • Scalp
  • Feet

The scalp, in particular, is one spot that people often ignore since they assume hair offers inherent protection from the sun's powerful rays.

"UV rays can burn hair as much as they can burn skin, so applying an SPF designed for hair will help prevent irreversible damage," celebrity hairstylist Mia Santiago says. "People often forget to spray their hairline and scalp, but these are some of the most sensitive areas on your body and if you are not wearing a hat, the sun is consistently beaming down on these areas. Hair SPF will also help prevent your color from fading."

Sunscreen mistake No. 5: Only applying in sunny weather

Think you can skip your SPF routine when it's partly cloudy out? Think again.

"The sun emits harmful UV rays all year long. Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate your skin. To protect your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer, apply sunscreen every time you are outside, even on cloudy days," Dr. Robert Anolik, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, says.

Sunscreen mistake No. 6: Using an old product

Sunscreen is just like any other skin care or beauty product: it has a shelf life that only lasts so long.

"The FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for at least three years," Anolik says.

Want to make sure your sunscreen actually works? It's a good idea to check your stash every few months to make sure you're not using expired products.

Sunscreen mistake No. 7: Using a product you hate

Applying sunscreen can be a chore, but it becomes a true pain when you use a product you don't love. Finding your ideal sunscreen is kind of like dating: Sometimes, you need to kiss a few frogs before you meet your perfect match.

"Some people force themselves to use a sunscreen that they don’t really like on a day to day basis. The more you do this, the less likely you’ll use it every day," Anolik says. "Sunscreen products have become so diversified with sprays, lotions and creams giving different feels that I think there’s one out there for everyone. So part of a patient's job is trying out a variety and finding one they actually enjoy! Then they’ll use it all the time."

Sunscreen mistake No. 8: Relying solely on sunscreen

Sunscreen is great, but it's not always 100% effective. Luckily, there are a few other ways you can protect yourself from the sun (in addition to applying your go-to SPF).

"It’s important to seek shade and wear sun-protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible," Anolik says.

SPF and UPF products to try

Neutrogena Clear Face Liquid Sunscreen Lotion

Sunscreen is essential, but that doesn't mean you have to break out when you wear it. This gentle non-comedogenic formula is made for acne-prone skin and prevents breakouts while fending off both UVA and UVB rays. As an added bonus, it's lightweight and offers a matte finish.

Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50

With nearly 2,000 five-star ratings to its name, this sunscreen stick has lots of ardent admirers. The mineral formula offers SPF 50 protection in a non-comedogenic formula that won't clog pores, and it's perfect for kids who hate applying liquids or sprays.

Banana Boat Sport Ultra SPF 50 Sunscreen Spray SPF 50

It doesn't matter what sunscreen format you use as long as you use it regularly. This spray from Banana Boat has nearly 11,000 five-star ratings from Amazon customers and offers broad spectrum SPF 50 coverage. It's also water and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes!

Bath & Body Works Coconut Sunscreen Lip Balm

Pucker up, baby! Swipe some of this lip balm on before heading out in the sun to make sure the delicate skin on your lips doesn't get burned. The SPF 20 broad spectrum formula is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and has a lovely coconut flavor.

Supergoop! Lipshade 100% Mineral SPF 30 Hydrating Lipstick

Finally, a lipstick that protects your lips from the sun's harsh rays! This brilliant new addition to Supergoop's lineup comes in five shades and offers buildable coverage. The mineral SPF formula hydrates, protects and softens lips, making it a pretty and practical choice.

Sun Bum Sunscreen Scalp Spray SPF 30

Sun Bum is known for its high quality facial and body sunscreens and this scalp spray is no exception. It offers SPF 30 coverage and it's water-resistant for 80 minutes, meaning you can go for a swim without reapplying it for a while. The best part? The formula is lightweight so you don't have to worry about it deflating your do.

L'Oréal Paris Age Perfect Radiant Serum Foundation with SPF 50

Want to even out your skin tone and shield your delicate facial skin from the sun? This multitasker can help you achieve both goals. It's made with hydrating ingredients like vitamin B3 and boats an impressive amount - SPF 50, to be precise - of sun protection. Plus, it has nearly 10,000 five-star ratings! Just make sure to add an SPF moisturizer underneath too.

EltaMD UV Clear Face Sunscreen SPF 46

Nearly 31,000 Amazon customers have given this bestselling sunscreen a five-star rating and it's easy to see why. The oil-free formula is lightweight and offers SPF 46 coverage, and it's particularly perfect for sensitive complexions and skin types that are known to experience rosacea, acne and discoloration.

Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Sheer Matte Sunscreen Brush SPF 30

Reapplying a full face of sunscreen isn't always the most practical option, especially when you don't want to mess up your makeup at a special event. That's where this sunscreen brush comes in handy! The matte mineral powder acts like a finishing powder while protecting skin from the sun, pollution and blue light.

Coolibar Women's Brittany Beach Hat UPF 50+

Sun hats come in all shapes and sizes, but we're pretty partial to this mid-size floppy version that's made with a UPF 50 material. Notable features include an adjustable elastic string, a convenient sweatband and a wide brim. It comes in six fun color options and our fave is called Magnolia Pink.

Lands' End Women's Crew Neck Long Sleeve Rash Guard UPF 50

Surf's up! Whether you're swimming at the beach or simply going on a walk around the neighborhood, this rash guard offers ample protection from the sun with its UPF 50 material. The stretchy, lightweight material moves with you and wicks away moisture like a champ. It's particularly perfect for anyone who regularly forgets to reapply their sunscreen.

Sketchers Skech-Sweats Camo Lounge 9 Inch Short

Looking for a simple way to convince the guy in your life to take sun protection more seriously? These shorts are an easy way in. Made of UPF 40 material, the camo print shorts have mesh pockets and an adjustable drawstring. They hit right above the knee and also have a soft, stretchy material.