7 Worst Summer Skin Care Mistakes You Need to Stop Making

Get the secrets to a sun-kissed glow, without the dangers of damaged skin.

Medically reviewed in April 2020

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Summer is in full swing, and between the beach trips and barbecues, your skin can take a major beating. Long days out in the sun can up your risk of developing sunspots, wrinkles and even skin cancer. Here’s everything you need to know to look sun-kissed—not sun-scorched—all summer long.

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You don’t reapply your sunscreen

You know you should slather on the sunscreen before heading outside, but are you choosing the right SPF? High SPFs offer only slightly better protection than those with a lower number, and they can be misleading. "Sunscreens level off after SPF 45,” says dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD. Don’t be fooled: a high level of SPF can trick you into believing you can stay outside longer, increasing your chances of skin damage and skin cancer.

Instead, protect yourself from both UVA and UVB rays by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen or sunblock with an SPF between 30 and 50, and reapply often.

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You count on the clouds

Venturing outside when it’s overcast doesn’t mean you’re safe from the sun’s harmful rays. Up to 40 percent of UVA rays—the ones that cause sun damage—reach your skin even on overcast days. It’s still possible to get sunburnt too, even when the sun isn’t shining. There’s more: UVA rays can pass right through glass windows, so lather on the sunscreen before you hit the road or lounge beside your bay window.

The solution? Apply adequate sun protection every day. Downie recommends using SPF 30 all year—rain or shine.

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You skip the spot check

In a rush to get to the beach, it can be easy to miss a few spots when applying sunscreen. Commonly missed areas? The back of your knees, feet, hands and ears. "These places get sunburned very easily when neglected," says Downie. Lips are especially vulnerable to sun damage since they lack protective melanin. A burn on the lips can up your risk for skin cancer of the mouth. Sun exposure also damages collagen, which can thin your lips over time.

Be sure to apply plenty of sun protection to those areas and add broad-spectrum lip balm every two hours. And, ladies, lipsticks and glosses don’t count. The sheen actually attracts damaging rays, leaving you susceptible to sunburn.

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You scratch stings and bites

Bugs are as common to summer as backyard cookouts, and their bites can itch like crazy. It’s best to resist the temptation, since scratching at bug bites can break the skin and increase your risk of infection. Continued scratching can also lead to scarring.

There’s a solution: For stings, scrape away any remaining stingers, using a credit card or fingernail so as not to accidently trigger the stinger to release more toxins. Relieve the pain by applying a cool compress and popping an ibuprofen if needed. Combat itching with an antihistamine or anti-itch lotion. Aloe vera gel can help soothe the affected area. To fight the temptation to scratch, keep the bite or sting covered with a bandage.

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You forget your feet

Flip-flops and sandals may look cute with shorts and summer dresses, but they aren’t the best option for your feet. Frolicking all day in footwear that has no support can spread out the pad of your heels and crack the skin. Open-back shoes also expose the delicate skin on your feet to the air, which can be drying. There’s more: These dry cracks can deepen and in some cases, bleed.

If you just can’t ditch your favorite summer sandals (and let’s face it, who can?), be sure to keep your feet moisturized. Before bed, take a bath or shower to soften the skin, then apply a moisturizing foot cream. Slip your feet into soft cotton socks and allow your them to absorb the moisturizer all night long.

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You get lax with kids’s sun protection

It can be a battle trying to apply sunscreen to squirmy little ones, but it’s certainly worth the hassle. One bad sunburn during childhood can double your kid’s chances of developing melanoma as an adult.

Up the chances of getting the kids adequately protected by making a game of it. Let kids “paint” each other with sunscreen sticks, then step in and finish the job. Another solution: Buy your kids swimwear with built-in SPF, though you'll still need to apply sunscreen to the areas the suit doesn't cover. Be vigilant about reapplying sunscreen; even those that claim to be waterproof should be applied each time the little ones get out of the water.

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You misuse makeup

Whether at the beach or out running errands, we all want to look our best. Layering on powder or foundation in the summer heat is a recipe for breakouts and blackheads. Your pores open up when you sweat, leaving them susceptible to dirt, oil and makeup. If you're prone to acne, "wearing makeup while you sweat can aggravate it," says Downie.

Rethink your summer routine. If you’re headed to the beach, skip the makeup and use sun protection instead. On non-beach days, keep makeup light. Stick with a noncomedogenic, tinted moisturizer with broad-spectrum sun protection, waterproof mascara and a tinted SPF lip balm.

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