7 sun protection mistakes you’re probably making

A dermatologist’s guide to shielding yourself from the sun 

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Years ago, we avoided wearing SPF. We made the usual excuses: sunscreen is uncomfortable, we’re never outside, and we can’t be bothered to add another step to our skincare. But with midlife looming over the horizon, we’ve finally embraced sun protection into our daily regimen. We thought we were so smart, so disciplined, and so healthy with our arsenal of SPF….until we realized we’d been applying it all wrong. In an email interview with Sonja Rohner, Medical Therapeutic Area Specialist and Eunice Chan, Product Manager of Daylong Singapore, we explored some of the common misconceptions about sun protection.

Here’s how to apply your sun protection products for maximum effectiveness:

1. You don’t understand the difference between UVA and UVB rays

“There are different ultraviolet (UV) rays,” Sonja and Eunice said. “Basically, long wave UVA rays cause aging and short wave UVB rays cause sunburn.  While UVB radiation is effectively blocked by glass (this is why indoors you usually won’t get sunburned), UVA radiation can pass through windows. People who sit near a window will be affected by UVA, which can induce degenerative changes in skin cells and lead to premature skin aging. So it is important to use a broad spectrum sunscreen that also protects against UVA.”

2. You use makeup with SPF instead of actual sunscreen

Speaking of different UV rays, using a BB Cream or moisturiser that contains SPF can give you an illusion of safety if you don’t layer it with actual sunscreen. According to Sonja and Eunice, many Singaporeans don’t realise that their SPF makeup only blocks out UVB rays but not UVA. Nor is it clear how much of the makeup you need to apply to get the SPF coverage advertised on the pack.

“We should be concerned with not only SPF (measurement of UVB protection) but choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that can protect against UVB, UVA and IR (infrared radiation) rays. Ideally, a sunscreen should have a UVB protection of SPF 30 and a UVA protection of PA+++.”

3. You avoid sun protection because it causes breakouts

If your skin is sensitive, don’t swear off SPF entirely – experiment! Maybe you’ll get a breakouts during the period of trial and error, but finding a sunscreen that works for you will pay off in the long run. Most major drugstore brands, like Daylong, produce sunscreens with a variety of formulas and ingredients to cater to every skin type. You can pick from gel, cream, or a spray. Unlike the coconut-scented sunscreens of our youth, today's facial sun protection products usually have hydrating, anti-aging, anti-scarring, or anti-acne properties. 

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4. You avoid sun protection because you believe the chemicals in those products do more harm than good   

“The safety of sunscreens has been extensively studied for years, and the evidence that sunscreens are safe and effective is overwhelming; both for organic (chemical) and inorganic (physical) filter substances,” Sonia and Eunice said.

But if you really must abstain from sunscreen, at least use accessories that block the sun. “Protect yourself from the sun using all the basic sun protection strategies — including shade, loose-fitting clothing made from tightly woven fabric, UV-blocking sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and sunscreen.”

5. You’re not spreading out your sunscreen enough

Sonja and Eunice said that the biggest mistake people make when applying sunscreen is applying it too thinly. “The official recommendation is to apply 2 milligrams per square centimetre, which is equivalent to half or 1 teaspoon of sunscreen for the face, or 30 milliliters per application for an average adult body,” they said. “Most users apply far too low amounts of sunscreen products, resulting in a much lower sun protection factor (SPF) than labeled. The SPF behaves not even linear to the applied amount. So half of the recommended amount of sunscreen may result in only as low as one-fourth of the labeled SPF.”

6. You only put on sun protection when the sun is out

Have you ever picnicked on a cloudy day only to find yourself red and flaky after a few hours spent outdoors? That’s because we tend to forget that “not sunny” does not equal “no sun.”

“Over 90 per cent of UV rays penetrate light cloud cover, hence sunscreen still needs to be applied,” Sonja and Eunice pointed out.

7. You apply your waterproof sunscreen only once a day

Think waterproof mascara can last an entire day? WRONG. Not even waterproof mascara can last that long, let alone a sunscreen subjected to sweat and humidity.

“Every sunscreen is maximum ‘extra water resistant’, but none are really ‘waterproof’,’” Sonja and Eunice explained. “Factors like toweling, abrasion by sand, and many others will remove some of the applied product. Regular reapplication will help to maintain the best possible sun protection.” 

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