Skin-Care Tips

How to Apply Sunscreen (and How Not to)

Photo: Stocksy/Bonnin Studio

Sunscreen is kind of like toothpaste. If you don’t use enough—or use it incorrectly—it’s just not going to work. Only instead of gum disease and cavities, you’re leaving yourself open to premature aging (wrinkles, sagging, and melanin deposits caused by sun exposure) or worse, skin cancer.

While no sunscreen is 100 percent effective at blocking ultraviolet (UV) rays, many sunburns are caused by faulty or infrequent application.

About 100 percent of dermatologists say that most people don't follow the directions right on the bottle to re-apply sunscreen regularly. (And using last season's sunblock or one reaching its expiration date is not a great idea either.)

By wearing sunscreen correctly—and daily, you’ll not only help prevent scorching your skin, you’ll also help prevent sun damage, lessening your dependence on those skin repairing or anti-aging beauty products.

Keep reading for eight easy tips for applying sunscreen.

Originally posted January 5, 2011. Updated February 7, 2017.

applying sunscreen
Photo: Stocksy/Sean Locke

How to apply sunscreen—in eight easy steps

1. Lay it on thick. Use a tablespoon of sunscreen (of at least an SPF 25) on your face, and about two ounces for your body. Unless you slather on a thick layer, you’re probably just getting an SPF 10 out of your SPF 30.

2. Dot sunscreen directly onto your face—instead of squeezing a giant blob onto your hands and applying it. This technique helps it absorb more quickly and evenly.

3. Put sunscreen on first, then your moisturizer. Best to get it right on your clean, dry skin. However, this is less important if you use a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreen.

4. Use sunscreen daily. The majority of sun exposure is casual and incidental, meaning you get it walking to the subway or to get lunch or through your office window, say dermatologists.

5. Apply sunscreen before you go into the sun. Chemical sunscreens need time to be absorbed into the skin to work. So they require a head start of about 20 minutes.

6. Use zinc oxide if you need immediate sun protection. Both zinc and titanium dioxide are minerals that block the sun’s UV rays, so they work faster than chemical sunscreen ingredients, which must be absorbed to convert light to heat energy in your skin.

7. Reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes. A leading sunscreen formulator once told me that many sunscreens become unstable (that is, ineffective) when exposed to sunlight. Ironic, right? That means the stuff simply stops working, so you have to use more every couple hours. Think of it like mouthwash.

8. Touch up with mineral makeup. If you go out at lunch, your morning application of sunscreen is already useless. So touch up with a mineral-based powder that has an SPF. Many with zinc or titanium dioxide (like Jane Iredale) have an SPF 18 or 20.

After you stock on on these essential warm-weather beauty essentials, check out Elle Macpherson's advice for having dewy skin all season long.


Loading More Posts...