A few weeks ago, I came home from the beach with sand between my toes and a sunburn on the top of one foot. I had worn a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses, applied sunscreen before I even put my bathing suit on—then reapplied after swimming and throughout the day—and covered up with a long-sleeve top after a few hours in the sun. I had done everything by the book, and somehow I had still missed that one foot.
It’s a common mistake, says dermatologist Heather Rogers, MD, medical director of Modern Dermatology in Seattle. “Anything that’s perpendicular to the sun is going to burn easier,” she tells me.
“Anything that’s perpendicular to the sun is going to burn easier.”
But these small spots matter. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that over the past 30 years in the United States, more skin cancers have been diagnosed than every other type of cancer combined.
So keep your favorite SPF close at hand—all year long—and pay attention to the places you’re likely neglecting.
Scroll down to learn about the body parts people most often forget to protect—and why slathering on the sunscreen is so important.
The most common culprits for sun-damaged areas
Dr. Rogers ticks off some of the places you’re likely forgetting to properly apply (or reapply your sunscreen): “Tops of the feet, tops of your ears, top of your head. People always forget their scalp; they always forget the part,” she says.
Even in rainy Seattle, top-of-the-head burns are all too common, Dr. Rogers tells me—but she has a fix. “I’m a big fan of powder sunscreen for the scalp,” she recommends. The sensitive skin on your head, face, and neck are also some of the most vulnerable areas on the body when it comes to developing non-melanoma skin cancer, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
And another study that was presented at the British Association of Dermatologists conference last summer, indicated that the participants missed roughly 10 percent of the face all together. The most commonly forgotten place? The eyelids, a spot 13 percent skipped and the inner corners of the eyes where 77 percent forgot to apply their formula. So next time you’re applying your SPF, be diligent in making sure every inch of the face is covered.
It’s never too early to start properly protecting your skin
While sunburns are obvious examples of sun-protection fails, Dr. Rogers says that she often sees another result of sunscreen oversight that takes years to develop visible evidence. “Somewhere in your late 20s, early 30s, when aging first kicks in, your game goes up and you’re putting on your sunscreen and wearing your sunglasses and starting to protect yourself. But you don’t think about your neck and chest until you’re further down that road,” she says. And at that point, it’s too late to prevent lasting skin damage. “If I can get my 25-year-olds to be putting sunscreen on their face, neck, and chest, they’re all going to be so happy when they’re 60. Same thing with the backs of the hands.”
An avid water skier, you’ll find Dr. Rogers out on the water—suited up in sunscreen and a rash guard—all summer long. “You have your cute little bikini bottoms on and then you have your sun shirt or rash guard on—you’re good to go,” she says.
What you won’t find her doing is working on her tan. “I uniformly tell my patients, Do not lay in the sun for the sake of getting tan,” says Dr. Rogers. “Even if you have sunscreen on, that is only going to lead to damaging your skin.”
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