Health Team

Lather up before heading outside: Don't make these sunscreen mistakes

Posted May 29, 2017 4:15 p.m. EDT
Updated May 29, 2017 4:41 p.m. EDT

Most of us know that it's best to apply sunscreen before heading out into the sun, especially in summer months.

However, a recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology shows some people may not apply sunscreen properly in the first place. That can lead to problems over time.

"A common place for people to get skin cancers as they age is their scalp and the top of the ears, and those places are frequently missed," Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist with the Cleveland Clinic, said. "We forget about them."

In the study, researchers found that only about 33 percent of participants applied sunscreen to all of their exposed skin.

Some sunscreens provide less than half of promised protection, study says

Covering your head with sunscreen can be especially difficult if your scalp is exposed due to thinning hair.

In these cases, Piliang recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat that can cover the head, face, ears and neck.

Other often-neglected body parts include the chest and neck area, the face, arms and the back of the legs.

For women, the back of the legs is a common place for melanoma to form.

Another sunscreen pitfall for some comes when it's time to re-apply.

Piliang says it should be re-applied every one to two hours, and immediately after swimming or toweling off, because that's when the lotion barrier washes away or is wiped off.

Another problem for some is that they don't apply the right quantity of sunscreen.

To cover all skin, Piliang says at least one ounce of sunscreen is needed.

"Your sunscreen bottles usually contains six to eight ounces, so that's six to eight applications," she said. "Remember, you have to reapply every few hours while you're out."

If a family of four takes one bottle of sunscreen on vacation and brings lotion home, chances are they haven't used enough.

There are also alternatives to sunscreen, such as clothing with a "sun protection factor," or SPF, built in.

Doctors also recommend large sunglasses that protect the eyes as well as the skin around the eyes.