Does anyone out there love putting on sunscreen? We’re guessing not. While it’s not so terrible when it’s a part of your beauty routine and combined with your daily moisturizer, when it comes to swimsuit time and there’s all that extra real estate to cover, it’s a rather unpleasant chore. And don’t even get us started on the task of applying sunscreen to kids. It’s a feat of patience and endurance and limb-wrangling worthy of being an Olympic sport.
Regardless, it’s absolutely necessary. The sun’s UV rays are not kind to our delicate dermis. You know the spiel. But, did you know the average person uses less than half the amount of sunscreen they should be? Less. Than. Half! On top of that, most people miss critical spots on their bodies (that also happen to be the spots where most skin cancer begins).
Even if you're using the best sunscreen, poor application means people likely reap less than half of their sunscreen’s UV-protecting benefits. And while you might avoid a dreaded sunburn (caused by UVB rays), UVA rays are still penetrating deep into your skin causing all sorts of damage.
As an FDA-regulated product, sunscreens must pass certain tests to ensure safety and efficacy, but how you use it makes a world of difference in how well you’re protecting yourself and your family from sunburn, skin cancer, early skin aging, and other risks from UV ray exposure.
If you’re going through the motions of applying sunscreen, make sure you’re doing it right.
The FDA requires all sunscreens to be marked with an expiration date – unless the product has been proven to maintain its protective factor for at least three years. If yours has expired, toss the old bottle and buy some new sunscreen. Also, if the bottle has been kept in high-heat environments (like the trunk of your car), it can go bad sooner than what’s printed on the package. If you notice any obvious changes in the sunscreen, like a shift in color or smell, or a strange consistency, play it safe and buy a new bottle.
It might be stating the obvious, but sunscreen should be applied BEFORE you go outside. The active ingredients in sunscreen take time to settle into your skin and become fully protective. This is especially important with water-resistant sunscreens – if you haven’t given it enough time and you jump in the pool, you’re instantly washing away some of the protection and leaving your skin vulnerable.
Getting a jump on application is also key with kids. Wee ones are naturally impatient. Waiting until you’re at the beach with the ocean water calling their name is just begging for disaster as every second of waiting turns into hours in their minds. Instead, apply sunscreen before leaving the house or in the parking lot. (Note: If you're throwing clothes on the kids right after applying the sunscreen or the car-ride is going to be long or they're sweaty and wiggly in their car seat, you might want to do a second, quick rub down when you get to your destination.) Refer to the sunscreen packaging for specific instructions regarding how far in advance you should apply the product.
For adults, use a tablespoon of sunscreen on your face, and about 1-2 ounces for your body. Remember that fact from above: most people only use half the amount they should. Now is not the time to skimp. Less is not more in this moment. More is more.
Maybe it's another obvious point to make, but you'd be surprised how many people neglect certain areas of their body. Remember areas like your ears, neck, armpits, the tops of your feet, and even the part in your hair. Any skin that will see the light of day should be covered with sunscreen.
The face and neck are the most common places on the body for skin cancers to form (over 90% are diagnosed in this area)—but people tend to miss about 10% of their face when they put on sunscreen. According to one study, about 13% of people missed their eyelids, and 77% of people missed spots between the inner corners of the eyes and the bridge of the nose. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
When in doubt, reapply. Better to be safe than sorry! Even if you're taking a break in the shade, you can still be hit by harmful UV rays that bounce off the water, sand, or sidewalk. They can even reflect off of grass!