Learn from my sunscreen mistakes

Here goes my shameful confession: I work for the Melanoma Research Alliance and I still got a sunburn.  Everyone makes mistakes at a new job, but mine were entirely preventable.


It was a bachelorette weekend in Florida that did me in.  I had high hopes for three sun-safe days hanging out on the beach.  I even checked my suitcase to accommodate the array of four different sunscreens I brought down.

Despite my good intentions, I ended the weekend with sunburns on my lower leg and chest, and had to wear long pants and shirts to work for a week to disguise my misadventures.  More seriously, since I work in the melanoma space, I know that sunburns like these can increase my risk of developing melanoma.  And that’s scary.

As summer heads into the homestretch, I’d like to offer up my sunscreen mistakes so others can avoid them.  After all, a sunburn born of good intentions looks and feels just as terrible (and is just as risky) as a reckless one.

Mistake 1:  Hitting the beach without a first coat of sunscreen

We bounded out of bed on our first morning at the beach, super excited to get down to the cabana so the vacation could officially commence.  I threw some SPF 50 and 30 in my bag, figuring I’d take care of lotioning up once we got on the beach.

The easiest time to apply sunscreen is in the privacy of your own home, before getting dressed for the beach.  You can twist yourself up in sorts of poses you’d rather not showcase in public, getting at those hard-to-reach areas and avoid the dreaded “missed spot.”  Additionally, MRA and other groups recommend that sunscreen be applied at least 30 minutes before heading into the sun.

Mistake 2:  Reapply, why?

After suffering some “missed spots” on my knees on day one of the vacation, I vowed to be far more careful in my sunscreen application on day two.  I woke up and applied my SPF 50 sunscreen everywhere before leaving the hotel for the day.  Feeling good about learning from my previous sunscreen mistake, I relaxed and enjoyed a day of swimming and reading gossip magazines.

Applying a full coat of SPF 50 at 9am does not create an impenetrable armor of sun protection that lasts the entire day.  Yes, you should feel proud about hitting the beach covered in SPF, but don’t think you’re done for the day.  According to the AAD, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, and more frequently if you are sweating or swimming.  Going to the beach usually involves both of those activities, so stay mindful of the time that has elapsed and reapply accordingly.

Mistake 3:  Relying on only one type of sun protection

Using several methods of UV protection is better than relying on just one, plus, hats and UPF-blocking clothing and accessories are sun smart and add extra style to your beach ensemble. If I had been using some of these products, my sunscreen mistakes may have been mitigated, and maybe I wouldn’t have had to slink around the office for a week waiting for my telltale sunburn to fade and hoping that it doesn’t come back to haunt me in the future.

I’m happy to say, I’ve learned from these mistakes and realized that sun protection is more than bringing sunscreen to the beach, it’s planning ahead and developing sun safe habits that will last a lifetime.

Have a sun safe and fun 4th of July weekend everyone!


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