Nine sunscreen tips for the summer

Couple standing together while they are at the beach

For many of us, summertime means long sunny days spent by the pool or at the beach. However, many of us are incorrectly applying sunscreen or questioning the need for it altogether.

Saira George, M.D., a dermatologist at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, says many patients still ask about the necessity or safety of sunscreen.

“I understand the concern,” George says. “What’s more natural than sunlight? But we have to understand that there are carcinogens in nature, and too much UV radiation from the sun is an example of that.”

Here are nine sunscreen tips to help keep your family safe from skin cancer including melanoma.

  1. More is better.

The biggest trouble people get into with sunscreen is not using enough and missing spots. “Just because you use sunscreen doesn’t mean you can’t get sunburned or get skin cancer. Those who use it tend to be in the sun more, and we all tend to under-apply sunscreen,” says George. Be generous and thorough in covering every part of your body that is exposed to the sun with sunscreen, including your ears, back of your neck, and toes.

The average adult should use one ounce of sunscreen per application. That means the bottle should be gone within a few applications.

A family of four on summer vacation should pack one bottle of sunscreen for every two days. But most only use 1.5 bottles of sunscreen per year.

  1. It takes time for sunscreen to reach optimal protection.

Before your kids get dressed, apply the first coat of sunscreen. Most sunscreens don’t hit their maximum protection until 30 minutes after you apply them.

  1. Spray sunscreens may not give you full coverage.

Spray sunscreens bring additional challenges, including covering the body. The best practice is to rub in sunscreen after applying, or it will not work very effectively.

  1. Make applying sunscreen a daily habit.

Even on cloudy days, the sun’s UV rays shine through and can cause skin damage or sunburns. Adding the application of sunscreen to your daily routine is far more effective than using sunscreen only when it’s sunny outside or when you’re expecting sun exposure. So, make this your family’s new morning routine: apply sunscreen, get dressed, put on shoes and enjoy the day.

  1. Sunscreen doesn’t last all day.

Apply and then reapply every two hours. If you’re swimming or sweating, reapply sunscreen even more often. No sunscreen is truly waterproof.

If your kids participate in applying their sunscreen, they will be more likely to want to apply it and remember to do so themselves.

  1. Higher SPF does not equal more protection.

No sunscreen provides 100% protection from the sun. SPF 30 provides 97% protection, SPF 50 provides 98%, and SPF 100 provides 99%. In other words, there’s little benefit in using anything over SPF 30.

It’s also important to keep in mind that sunscreen is just one way to protect your skin from the sun. “I think the biggest danger of using sunscreen may be the false sense of security it provides,” says George. Additional effective ways to protect your skin are to seek shade, wear sun-protective clothing (including a hat that covers your ears) and sunglasses with UV protection, and avoid being outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are most harmful.

7.Always check the expiration date on your sunscreen.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the effectiveness of sunscreen and requires each bottle to have an expiration date. Sunscreen is usually good for three years, so check the expiration date and throw out anything past its date.

  1. All skin types, from fair to dark, need sunscreen and sun protection.

Anyone can get skin cancer, no matter their age or skin color. No skin type is completely safe from sun damage and skin cancer.

  1. The best sunscreen is the sunscreen that works for you.

There is a lot of talk about what ingredients to look for or avoid in sunscreens. “I advise my patients who are still worried about sunscreen safety to stick with the simple mineral sunscreens,” says George. First, find sunscreens that have been approved by the FDA, and then find one that feels good and that you’ll actually use and reapply often.

To learn more on how to reduce your risk of skin cancer, visit mdanderson.org/reduceyourrisk