How to Use Sunscreen the Right Way

woman applying sunscreen

Skincare experts and dermatologists promote the regular use of sunscreen for the prevention of wrinkles, dark spots and skin cancer. And while this seems like an easy step to take in caring for your skin, there’s more to it than just slathering on something with an SPF and calling it a day. There are some guidelines you should follow to ensure that your sunscreen application will be effective and lasting. 

Sunscreen can be a confusing topic. Dermatologists get frequent questions about when to apply it, where to apply it and how often to reapply it. Read on to get the answers to your sunscreen questions so you can keep your skin looking healthy and radiant all year long.  

When Should You Apply Sunscreen?

You’ve probably seen it and perhaps have even been guilty of it yourself. You arrive at the beach, pool or baseball field and apply sunscreen to your exposed skin, thinking you have adequately protected yourself from the damaging UV rays. Unfortunately, you have already exposed your skin to the sun and sun damage has already begun. 

The moment you step outside with unprotected skin, you are at risk of experiencing sun damage. To be most effective, sunscreen must be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going outside to allow it time to absorb into your skin. Avoid dressing right away so the sunscreen does not rub off on your clothing. 

Another common question is when to apply sunscreen in your skincare routine. If you wear serums and moisturizers during the day, apply your sunscreen as the final step. By applying it over other products, you can help ensure that the sunscreen does not become diluted, removed or lose its effectiveness. 

If you wear makeup or a foundation, allow a few minutes for your sunscreen to set in before applying. Avoid excessive rubbing or blending to prevent the sunscreen from being removed or unevenly distributed.  

Where Should You Apply Sunscreen? 

Sunscreen should be applied to any exposed skin. While most people are consistent about putting an SPF on their faces, arms and legs, there are a few spots that are often missed. Many people experience sunburn on their scalps, especially those with bald or shaved heads. Be sure to apply a sunscreen to this area of the head using a lightweight lotion or spray. Bandanas, hats or other head coverings can also provide some scalp and head protection. 

Speaking of your head, there are few other spots that are often neglected when it comes to sun protection. The tops of the ears are a common spot for sunburn, and one that can be quite painful. The delicate skin of the lips is also susceptible to burns if left uncovered, causing nasty blistering. The neck is another area that can get a lot of sun, even if you think it is protected by clothing or hair. 

Finally, the tops of your feet should be protected with sunscreen, especially when you are out at the beach or wearing sandals or flip flops. Sunburn on your feet can be painful and make wearing shoes a challenge. 

When Should You Reapply Sunscreen? 

Most conventional advice says that sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. For example, if you are wearing an SPF 30 or greater and spending minimal time in direct sunlight, you probably do not have to reapply throughout the day. This probably comes as good news for those who were wondering about your makeup! 

The key is to wear the proper SPF and to apply it liberally to the skin. If you will be out in direct sun, sweating or swimming, you will certainly need to reapply as directed to have continued protection. Sweat, water and sun rays can break down the sunscreen over time, reducing its effectiveness and putting you at risk for a burn. 

What does “liberal” mean? That is a good question. The rule of thumb is to apply a layer thick enough to be visible on the skin before rubbing in. If you will be getting direct sun exposure, apply another layer and reapply every two hours. 

Don’t Skip the Sunscreen

Even though it might be confusing, do not skip sunscreen altogether. It is one of the most critical steps in a healthy skincare routine and can prevent damage that will cause you problems down the road. For more information about sunscreen and how to choose an SPF, read the article Sunscreen 101: What You Need to Know.