The Where, What, and How of Applying Sunscreen

Augusta Falletta
girl applying sunscreen

Image via Nick Clements/Getty Images

It’s no secret that we’re sunscreen addicts. With so many horror stories of sun damage and melanoma out there, why wouldn’t you simply protect yourself with sunscreen every day? It sounds simple in theory, but many women don’t actually use sunscreen on a daily basis, opting for it only when they know they’ll be roasting under the sun on the beach during the summer.

Besides simply knowing that you should be wearing sunscreen, it’s important you know what you’re doing. To get the scoop on where, what, and how you should be using SPF, we turned to Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, who specializes in dermatologist and laser surgery. Read on below!

Beauty High: Some women are starting to protect their faces with sunscreen now, but they’re still not using sunblock on their bodies every day. Is it necessary to use body SPF all over on a normal day when you’re wearing a light t-shirt or dress?

Dr. Macrene:  It’s just as important to use SPF on your body. I recommend reserving the expensive and higher SPF for the face and use a less expensive moisturizer for the body. People tend to under apply if they use a high priced sunscreen. A t-shirt only provides an SPF of 8, so sunscreen needs to be applied in addition to that or better yet, wear sun protective clothing that provides an SPF of 100. This takes the burden off you to have to apply sunscreen to large surface areas.

MORE: Foods That Help Protect Your Skin From Sun Damage

On a normal week day when you’re not at the beach, how often — if at all — do you need to reapply sunblock?

Apply 15 minutes prior to going into the sun to let it absorb into the skin, and every 2 hours thereafter, or additionally after water exposure or perspiration.

Are there any places we typically forget about when applying?

I often find the most worrisome moles on the palms and soles of the feet. For starters, these areas have far less pigment (they do not tan). Second, people rarely put sunscreen on their palms and soles, so they get unprotected intense exposure. You need to be cognizant of this and see your dermatologist if a mole pops up or you notice changes on the hands or feet.

Is there any one formula of sunscreen that works better than the others (spray vs. oil vs. lotion)?

Stay away from oils to avoid breakouts. Spray sunscreens are great and very helpful for those who dislike lotions — they’re easier and quicker to apply. Water resistant sunscreens work just as well as regular and last longer. The speed of application of spray on sunscreens translates into faster, more efficient coverage, which is very helpful if you are already at the beach and need to apply. The other often ignored fact is that lotion sunscreens are sticky and many people dislike the feeling, therefore they apply less or not at all. Spray sunscreens are better because they’re more accepted.

MORE: Sunscreen 101: The Best Moisturizers With SPF

Which SPF protection number should you look for?

I recommend an SPF of 50 or higher. The fact is that if you under apply your sunscreen, which people often do, and you are starting with an SPF of 50 — applying half of what you are supposed to will get you to an SPF of about 25. If you start with an SPF of 30 and under apply, you may only start out with an SPF of 15. Another reason is that the closer you are to the equator or to high UV areas, the more that extra percentage point of blockage really matters.

We know that not wearing sunscreen can put you at a higher risk for skin cancer, but what are some of the other dangers of neglecting it?

Skin cancer is on the spectrum with skin aging. Most of the aging of the skin that we see is due to sun exposure, causing wrinkles, rough and uneven skin tones, and more.