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The Do’s & Don’ts of SPF

Like many good things in life, our relationship with the sun is complicated. Nothing beats being outdoors on a sunny day, but you’re (probably) aware of the damage said sunbeams can do to your skin. Hyper-pigmentation, melasma, wrinkles, melanoma — the list of damage caused by not using SPF is long and varied.

Sun damage is both the number one reason and the most preventable cause of premature aging. While high-performance anti-aging treatments are great (Hi Pineapple-C Bright Serum!), if you’re not guarding your complexion against damaging UV rays, your skin is just going to continually look and feel less smooth, glowing, and firm. Moral of the story? Preventing and protecting against damage is just as important (if not more) as repairing it.


At this point, we know that using sunscreen is non-negotiable, but there’s still a lot of confusion around the nitty gritty. Does a pricier sunscreen offer better protection? Does SPF in your makeup count? Do you need sunscreen on every inch of skin? Just in time for the bright and beautiful summer weather, we put together an essential list of the do’s and don’ts of sun protection. Here’s what you need to know to keep your skin safe.

DO Know Your Dose
Oftentimes, we’re not applying enough sunscreen to fully protect us against sun damage. A full shot glass of sunscreen is the minimum amount in terms of volume that you should be applying — and at least a nickel-sized dollop of that should be on your face. “You need that much to cover the average body and face to the degree that will accomplish the stated SPF level of the product,” says Kenneth Howe, a board-certified dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City. Meaning if you’re using an SPF 50 but not using the correct dosage, you’re not actually getting the full strength of the sunscreen’s protection levels.

Additionally, don’t forget to apply sunscreen on areas that you might not think about as getting sun exposure.. This includes the “tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head,” suggests Hadley King, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors, and when you’re outside, reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating.” And yes, whenever you reapply it should be that same shot-glass dose of SPF.


DON’T Hoard Your Sunscreen
Sunscreens expire faster than you think, and applying an expired SPF from last year is basically like rubbing in a simple moisturizer — there’s no significant sun protection benefit. “You should buy your sunscreen new every season so that you can be sure that it’s fresh,” says Francesca Fusco, board-certified dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City.

DO Save Your Money
A less expensive sunscreen does not equal less protection against UVA/UVB sun damage. “Higher price tags are not necessary to achieve photo-protection,” notes Dr. King. That said, many of those pricier products also feature more sophisticated textures or have other beneficial skin ingredients, making them hybrid products that both treat and protect. Organic and environmentally friendly products also tend to have higher price tags because the ingredients are more expensive to produce. Consider what your needs are and how the product will fit into your regular routine before you spend your hard-earned cash.

DON’T Rely On SPF To Prevent Melasma
Melasma is a form of hyper-pigmentation that cannot be prevented with SPF. A facial pigmentation issue associated with hormones from pregnancy or birth control use, melasma “can be caused or worsened by not only the sun’s rays, but also heat and visible light,” says King. “This means that even sunscreens that protect against skin cancer are not always enough to ward off melasma.” To minimize your chance of a flare-up, limit your time in the sun, always wear a hat, and choose physical sunscreens over chemical — blockers like titanium dioxide and zinc physically prevent the sun’s rays from absorbing into the skin where they can cause melanin production to go into overtime and create those pigmented patches.

DON’T Use Makeup As Your Only Sun Protection
Although makeup with SPF does technically count as sun protection, oftentimes, we aren’t applying enough of the product to achieve thorough and adequate coverage. “With sun block, the general guideline is to use a nickel to quarter sized amount to cover the face,” says Dr. King. “This is also true for [makeup products], but for people who don’t want to look like they are wearing a thick layer of makeup, this may not be their natural inclination.”

Dr. Fusco argues that the SPF in your makeup is enough to protect your face, but only on a normal day of traveling to work, when you’re not outdoors for an extended period of time. “If you’re on vacation and expecting to spend extended time in bright sunlight on the beach, on a sailboat, or during a hike, it is best to use a high SPF sunscreen lotion,” she says.


Learning about the do’s and don’ts of SPF is key to preventing photo-damage, but there’s nothing more important than actually applying sunscreen every single day, multiple times a day. Your skin with thank you in 20 years, promise.

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1 Comment

  • Elise Mallove Jun 27, 2019 4:31 pm

    Can you also address chemical vs mineral sunscreens and the impact upon coral reefs? These are important conversations you need to include in any comprehensive article about sunscreens.

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