For a lot of men, just saying “skincare” probably feels a little effeminate. And while you probably don’t give much thought to wrinkles or skin spots—at least not yet—you should worry about cancer.
“Every year we see skin cancer appearing more in younger individuals,” says Adam Friedman, MD, director of dermatologic research at Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
A recent study in JAMA Dermatology found young men—defined as dudes between 15 and 39—are more likely than young women to die if they develop melanoma. In fact, the study’s authors say the difference in mortality rates between young guys and girls is so drastic that inherent biological difference might play a role. Translation: Your man DNA may make you especially easy prey for life-taking skin cancers.
Here, Friedman explains the mistakes guys tend to make when it comes to protecting their hides:
WHEN YOU SPREAD ON SUNSCREEN, YOU APPLY TOO LITTLE
Most men just don’t use enough of the stuff to protect their skin, Friedman says. And when you skimp, you’re halving or even quartering the sun protection factor (SPF) listed on the bottle’s label. “You really should be slopping it on to get the full SPF benefit,” Friedman says. He also says you should use a product containing an SPF of 30 or higher.
YOU USE SPRAY-ON SUNSCREEN PRODUCTS
First of all, there are known health risks associated with inhaling the mist created by these sprays. Friedman says it’s also extremely difficult to get enough sunscreen applied evenly to your skin with these products. “If you’re spraying from a foot away, which is what I see most men doing, you’re wasting most of the product and losing a lot of the SPF,” he says. At most, you should hold the nozzle an inch away from your body while applying. “You should see a white film on your skin, and then you have to rub that in,” he says, before adding that sunscreen sticks also suck. Just go with a lotion.
YOU WAIT UNTIL YOU GET TO BEACH OR POOL TO SLATHER IT ON
Sunscreen requires time to soak into your skin and form a protective barrier against UV damage. If you apply it out in the sun, your sunscreen never has the opportunity to set up shop, Friedman says. You need to put the stuff on 20 minutes before you step outside, he says.
YOU THINK CLOUDY DAYS SAVE YOUR SKIN FROM THE SUN
While you may not get a tan or a burn, UVA rays are able to penetrate clouds. And more and more research suggests these rays might be as culpable as UVB rays when it comes to the formation of skin cancers, Friedman says. That’s why he (and every other derm you’ll ever meet) recommends wearing sunscreen all year round—on sunny or cloudy days—whenever you’re exposed to sunlight.
YOU SKIP YOUR LIPS
You probably don’t take time to rub sunscreen or protective lip balm onto your mouth. But the skin on your lips is delicate and prone to sun damage, Friedman says. Your lips are also a hot spot for skin cancers. Your eyes and the tops of your ears and head are also cancer danger-zones many men neglect, he adds.
YOU THINK BURNING IS PART OF TANNING
First of all, any tanning is technically skin damage, and isn’t good for you, Friedman says. But burns are much worse. “One blistering sunburn doubles your lifetime risk for melanoma,” Friedman says. If you think it’s okay to burn a bit at the start of summer as you build up your tan, you’re deluding yourself.
YOU THINK SUNSCREEN CHEMICALS ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN SUN DAMAGE
There are a handful of reports that suggest sunscreen chemicals could be risky. But Friedman says those reports are bullshit. “These studies are based on using just insane amounts of these chemicals, or on animals ingesting these chemicals,” he says. “There’s really no data showing that, used the way people use them, these chemicals are dangerous.” Compared to the very real risks of sun exposure and damage, you’d be nuts to avoid sunscreen.