At its most basic, sunscreen needs to have two things: a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and broad-spectrum protection against both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays. Next comes choosing a formula that works for your skin type and activity. But perhaps one of the most important pieces to the puzzle for sun protection is compliance and proper use. And unfortunately, this seems to be the part people have the most trouble with.
Without proper sun protection, we know that ultraviolet radiation causes DNA changes in the skin that can lead to premature aging—but skin cancer is also a big risk. The Canadian Cancer Society backs this up, reporting that around 9,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in 2022. Of that number, 1,200 will die from the disease, which is directly related to ultraviolet exposure.
The good news is that regular and proper sunscreen application can decrease the risk of developing skin cancer and photoaging over time. Here, we shed light on the biggest sunscreen myths and share the most common sunscreen mistakes people make, along with easy fixes that can help protect against skin cancer and signs of aging.
1. You’re not using enough sunscreen.
One of the most common mistakes is not applying enough sunscreen. A promising sign that you’re applying enough is when you need to restock your supply several times each summer. Experts suggest two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimetre of skin, which means about a shot glass full to cover your entire body. This amount can vary, of course, depending on your height and weight.
When it comes to your face, a half a teaspoon, or a nickel-size dollop—the equivalent of two-finger lengths—will give you enough coverage. If you’re wondering why these amounts are so specific, it’s because they are needed to provide the SPF indicated on the bottle.
2. Your sunscreen has expired.
Did you know that your sunscreen actually has an expiry date? Well, it does; it usually lasts around three years. The Canadian Cancer Society says sunscreen should not be used after the expiry date because it may not work as well. If your lotion hasn’t exceeded the date but has been exposed to high temperatures and changed colour or consistency, it should also be tossed.
3. The only sunscreen you put on your face is your moisturizer with SPF.
Although there’s nothing wrong with using a moisturizer with SPF as part of a skincare routine, it may be giving you a false sense of security. Most contain an SPF of 15, but the Canadian Dermatology Association recommends a minimum of SPF of 30. Even if it does have SPF 30, most people aren’t applying enough of it to get the full SPF when it comes to moisturizer. Even if your favourite moisturizer has SPF, follow up with sunscreen. Also, you’re technically supposed to continually apply sunscreen throughout the day, which you may not want to do with your moisturizer. Sunscreen is meant to sit on the skin (the last step of your skincare routine) to act as a defence between your face and the sun. So, add a separate sunscreen for the face like Vichy Capital Soleil Ultra-Light Lotion SPF 60 or Vichy Capital Soleil Anti-Soleil Anti-Shine Dry Touch UV Lotion SPF 60.
4. You don’t give it time to work.
Don’t wait until you’re outside to apply your first coat of sunscreen, especially if you’re using a chemical sunscreen. It needs time to be absorbed into the skin, so it’s recommended that you apply it 20 to 30 minutes before exposure so that certain components can evaporate and it can form an even film and start absorbing UV rays. However, if you’re using a mineral sunscreen (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), like Vichy Capital Soleil Mineral Tinted UV Lotion SPF 60, you’re good to go.
5. You’re not reapplying often enough.
No matter the type, every sunscreen must be reapplied. Whether they are chemical or mineral, water-resistant or high SPF, all formulas degrade significantly after two hours in the sun—and sooner than that if you have been in the water or sweated heavily. Don’t forget to reapply after every two hours of exposure. And if you are swimming or exercising, make sure you reapply after towel drying. Even if you’re not lounging by the pool or if you work near a window, reapply. If you’re worried about messing your makeup, try a stick formula like Vichy Idéal Soleil Stick for Sensitive Zones SPF 60. It’s easy to forget, so set a two-hour timer every time you reapply.
6. You’re missing important areas.
Most of us are diligent about applying sunscreen to the face, but we tend to forget other important areas. Pay attention to the ears, the back of the neck, the lips and the décolleté. It’s no coincidence that these four often-neglected spots are among the most frequent sites for basal-cell and squamous-cell carcinomas—the two most common non-melanoma skin cancers.
7. You’re only getting sun protection from sunscreen.
Sunscreen is important, but it shouldn’t be the only sun protection you rely on. The Canadian Dermatology Association suggests limiting sun exposure between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., especially around midday when UV rays are the most intense. You can also use darker-coloured fabrics with a tight weave to offer UV protection, along with accessories like a wide-brimmed hat.
8. You’re not using a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
The fact is, not all sunscreen formulas are created equal. One of the most important things you can do is choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen. SPF indicates the sunscreen’s UVB (burning) protection, but there’s currently no rating system for UVA (aging) protection. However, you can be confident in a sunscreen’s ability to protect you from both if you see “broad spectrum” on the label. Look for a logo featuring a circle around the letters UVA, this indicates to consumers the sunscreen achieves a ratio of 1:3 UVA protection. The good news is the entire Vichy Capital Soleil range not only meets but exceeds this.
9. You think that applying a high SPF sunscreen means you can spend more time in the sun.
We know that dermatologists recommend a minimum of SPF 30, but does a higher SPF mean that your sunscreen will perform better? Not exactly. High-SPF sunscreens give you only slightly better protection, usually tapping out at around SPF 60. At worst, they can give people a false sense of security. No matter the SPF number, you still need to reapply every two hours to avoid UV damage.
10. You only wear sunscreen when it’s sunny out.
Just because it’s cloudy doesn’t mean you get a pass when it comes to using sun protection. UVA rays have a longer wavelength than UVB rays and are able to pass through clouds and glass. This is why you need to wear sunscreen daily, no matter the time of year or weather forecast.