You probably consider yourself a sun-savvy woman. You know to apply sunscreen, one with a high SPF, before exposing your skin to midsummer rays. You do your best to avoid the sun during peak hours (though a little sunshine can do you goodit's a major source of vitamin D. Here's why vitamin D is important to your health).
And you wouldnt dream of stepping foot on the sand without your wide-brimmed hat. But what you dont know could be raising your risks for bad burns, skin cancer, and aging wrinkles.
We uncovered several glaring holes in the average sun-protection plan and asked top dermatologists for clever ways around them. Here, five simple things you can do to safeguard your skin more effectivelyand raise your SPF IQ.
1. Play it safe near windows
Think youre safe behind UV-coated glass in your car? Even when your windows are up, damaging UVA rays can pass through the glass. Car windows filter UVB rays, which is why you dont get sunburned. But only windshields block UVA rays, which cause damage beneath the surface of your skin that can lead to wrinkles and skin cancer.
In 2007, researchers at St. Louis University School of Medicine found that people who spend a lot of time behind the wheel tend to develop more skin cancers on the left side of their heads, necks, and armsthe side nearest the drivers window. Thats why dermatologists say we all should wear sunscreen in the car.
Howard Fein, MD, a dermatologist in Palos Verdes, California, goes one step further, recommending that people who drive long distances or have medical conditions that make skin sensitive to the sun (like Psoriasis or Lupus) have UV-proof coatingssuch as those by Llumar or 3Mapplied to their windows.
“They block 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays,” he says. If thats not in your budget (UV-film application starts at about $150), wear sunglasses and lower the sun visor for added face protection.
2. Don't consider lip gloss
Sheer, shiny glosses scream summer, but according to a recent study out of Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, lustrous SPF-free formulas can contribute to skin cancer and other forms of damage by attracting and absorbing UV rays.
“They act the same way as baby oil, increasing light penetration and making skin extra-vulnerable to cancers, burns, freckles, and precancerous growths,” says Jeannette Graf, MD, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York, and assistant professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
Even without this added risk, the lips are already susceptible to basal and squamous cell carcinomas, Dr. Fein says. To protect your pout, apply a balm with sunscreen, such as Blistex Daily Conditioning Treatment SPF 20 ($2.29; drugstores). If you want to top it with gloss, go for a formula that has SPF.
3. Watch how you wear your hair
All types of skin cancer can grow on the scalpespecially if your hair is fine. “Melanomas can be quite aggressive there because the scalp has a rich blood supply and numerous lymphatic channels, both of which encourage the spread of cancer,” Dr. Graf explains.
The sliver of skin exposed by your part is also susceptible, so occasionally shift where you part your hair to cut down on constant UV exposure. When spending time outside, protect vulnerable areas with a spray-on sunscreendermatologists prefer those made for skin, not hairor, if your hair is thinning, wear a hat.
Be sure to check your scalp for new or unusual spots every month, enlisting your hairstylists help if you cant get a good look on your own. And, if you wear your hair up a lot during the summer, dont forget to coat all sides of your neck with sunscreen.
4. Never swap sunscreen for shade
Were all for pitching a big umbrella in the sand, but dont assume that doing so offers a get-out-of-SPF-free card. “About 50 to 95 percent of rays can bounce up off of water and sand, and hit your skin, even if youre under an umbrella and surrounded by shade,” Dr. Graf says.
And while passing clouds may offer temporary heat relief, they block only 20 percent of UV rays; the other 80 percent soaks right into your skin, even when theres no sun in sight. Seeking shade while wearing sunscreen is the best way to save your skin.
5. Spring-clean your sunscreen
Do you tend to buy sunscreen in bulk and hang on to it forever? Bad idea. While the Food and Drug Administration requires that all sunscreens remain at their original strength for at least three years, Dr. Graf tells patients to toss theirs after one year if theres no expiration date on the bottle, because “you really have no idea how long it sat on the store shelf before you bought it,” she says.
Luckily, most bottles now carry expiration dates (usually on the back or bottom). Odds are, you can still pull from the three-pack you bought at Costco last year, but keep this in mind: You should always apply 1 ounce of sunscreenenough to fill a shot glass30 minutes before heading outside, and then reapply that same amount every two hours. In reality, that means an 8-ounce bottle should never last from one season to the next.