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How to Apply Sunscreen (the Right Way!)

By May 9, 2019May 8th, 2020Well-being
Young woman with sunscreen and sunglasses outside on a beautiful summer day

As the days get warmer and longer, we start to make summer plans — time for going “down the shore,” camping, barbequing, playing sports, swimming, and general lazing in the sun. But what we may not plan for in advance is how we’ll protect our skin during all that outdoor fun.

According to the experts at the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen is safe and can protect your skin against skin cancer and premature aging…if it’s applied correctly.

Don’t I Already Know How to Apply Sunscreen?

There’s a lot to read about the topic of sunscreen. How to select the right type. Which SPF to use. Whether to even use sunscreen at all. I’m not going to get into any of that — Google can help you find that information easily and from much better authorities than me.

What I want to talk about is simply the how to.

Like for instance…the American Academy of Dermatology recommends we use one fluid ounce each time we cover up. Are you trying to picture what one fluid ounce looks like? It’s a shot glass. Of course, if you’re built like a Sixers player, you may need a bit more than an ounce. If you’re built like Tinkerbell, probably somewhat less. You see what I’m getting at.

I’ve compiled a little cheat sheet of several more things you might not know about the mechanics of applying sunscreen properly. Are you ready?

5 Ways to Apply Sunscreen Effectively 

  1. Think ahead. The UV filters in sunscreen need about 15 minutes to soak into your skin and form a protective barrier.1 If you expose your skin to the sun sooner than that, it’s like you aren’t wearing sunscreen at all. If you’re going to the pool or beach, apply sunscreen before you leave the house. You can even do it in the buff, which eliminates the hassle of navigating around swimsuit straps and clothes.
  2. Don’t skimp. Keep in mind that your sunscreen’s SPF has nothing to do with how much you should be using for adequate coverage. Stick to the one fluid ounce (give or take depending on your size) recommendation.
  3. Remember easy-to-miss places:
    • Ears
    • Lips
    • Around the eyes (easy to forget if you’re wearing sunglasses)
    • Tops of the feet
    • Behind the knees
    • In and around the armpits
    • Under swimsuit straps
    • Exposed parts of your scalp (e.g., hair part, bald spots)
  4. Reapply periodically. Unfortunately, it’s not a one-and-done situation. Been swimming or splashing around? Reapply. Been sweating buckets (even sitting still)? Reapply. Been out for more than a couple of hours? You know the drill. Do it regardless of the SPF you’re using.
  5. Get help. Enlist a friend to help you cover those hard-to-reach places, like across your shoulder blades.

1 The 15-minute guideline applies to sunscreens with chemical filters. If your sunscreen lists zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the primary active ingredient(s), then you’re using a mineral-based sunscreen. Mineral-based sunscreens block UV rays with physical filters instead of chemical filters, so you can likely forego the waiting period.


Kathy Izumi

I’m Kathy. I love pen and paper, glue and glitter, trees and tents, chopping, mincing, stirring, kneading. I run a little, swim a little, and curse a little (especially when I’m too ambitious about the other two). I have one husband, two young kids, and until quite recently, two Madagascar hissing cockroaches in an aquarium in the living room. I’ve lived here and there across the U.S. and the world and am happiest huddled in a corner of the couch reading mystery novels.