Wear Sunscreen the Right Way

How to wear sunscreen properly to get the maximum protection |

Believe it or not, most people do not use sunscreen the right way and aren’t even aware of it. If you don't wear sunscreen correctly (even if you have a really good sunscreen), you reduce its effectiveness and ability to guard you against the sun's harmful UV rays.

The following steps will help you learn how to wear sunscreen the right way for maximum sun protection. To keep your skin young and healthy, make sure you are doing all of these things!

  1. Order is important: Sunscreen goes on after moisturizer and other skin treatments but before makeup. If you don't wear any makeup, sunscreen should be the last thing you put on your skin. Ideally, you should wait 20-30 minutes after the last product you put on your face (or until they are all soaked into your skin) before applying sunscreen to make sure the other products don't interfere with your sunscreen's ability to form a protective layer on your skin.

    Some people argue that sunscreen works best on bare skin (that way it can bond with the skin and offer better protection), but that’s not very necessary in my opinion. When sunscreen is the outermost layer, it forms a nice shield against UV rays. Whatever you do, do not mix sunscreen with your moisturizer or foundation because that could ruin the effectiveness of the sunscreen's formulation.

  2. Wait for your sunscreen to work: If you are using a chemical sunscreen, it's best to wait 20-30 minutes after applying before going outside so the UV filters have time to soak into your skin and form a protective layer. You don't have to wait for all-physical sunscreens. Sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide actives are effective as soon as you put it on. However, since there are sunscreens with both chemical and physical UV filters, it's generally a good idea to apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before sun exposure.

  3. Use sunscreen liberally: Apply 1/4 teaspoon of sunscreen on your whole face to ensure adequate coverage. (1/4 teaspoon is about the size of a nickel if your sunscreen is runny and flat. If your blob of sunscreen is thicker and rises higher, it will be about the size of a penny.) For your face and neck, 1/2 teaspoon will suffice. For your body, 2 tablespoons or 1 ounce is the recommended amount. This may seem like a lot of sunscreen, but if you don't apply the proper amount, you won't have a thick enough layer of sunscreen on your skin to form a shield for adequate protection.

  4. The motion of the potion: Pat on sunscreen instead of rubbing it in. This will help reduce skin irritation and also ensure that the sunscreen is applied evenly all over. You want a uniform film of sunscreen on your skin to get uniform protection.

    Some physical sunscreens are also rubbed off easily. By patting them on your skin instead of rubbing them into your skin, you prevent that from happening. Patting on sunscreen also makes it easier to apply sunscreen if your sunscreen has a tendency to ball up under makeup.

  5. Re-apply throughout the day. Re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours. This is especially important if you are going to be outdoors for a long time, sweat a lot, exercise vigorously, or go swimming. I also like to re-apply sunscreen after using paper blotters because the oils on my face can cause some of the sunscreen to be removed during the blotting sessions. Sweat, water, facial oils, and the degradation of sunscreen actives during sun exposure can all interfere with a sunscreen's level of protection. Re-applying sunscreen ensures that you get full protection.

    Do you have to re-apply sunscreen though? After all, it can be a hassle to put on sunscreen over makeup or on wet skin. The answer to this question really depends on your skin (i.e. how oily it gets), your level of activity, and how long you'll be out in the sun. In general, a sunscreen applied at 8 am will probably not be as effective at the end of the day without re-application. However, if you are just indoors (i.e. at school, work, or home) and away from direct window light, it's probably not that important to re-apply your sunscreen. If you are out in the sun or physically active though, then it's best to re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours at the very least.

Besides applying sunscreen properly, here are a few important things to keep in mind to make your sunscreen as effective as possible:

  1. Wear sunscreen every day, even on rainy days or on days you stay indoors, because UV rays still penetrate through clouds and windows. People think that you only need to wear sunscreen when it's sunny, but UV rays are present regardless of whether you see the sun or not.

  2. Wear sunscreen every day, especially if you use exfoliating products (ex. prescription retinoids, glycolic acid) and/or if you’re taking antibiotics. All of these products can cause photosensitivity. As a cautionary tale, my friend’s mom didn’t stay out of the sun and didn’t wear sunscreen when she was on antibiotics and ended up getting white blotches on her chest that are still there today. So be careful and protect your skin from the sun when you are using protects that increase your skin's sensitivity to sunlight.

  3. Virtually all UV filters are oil soluble, which means they are not removed by water. To completely remove sunscreen, it’s best to use an oil-based cleanser (milky/cream type cleansers or cleansing oils) or some kind of makeup remover that can remove waterproof actives.

  4. Just like how you should wash off any makeup before going to bed, you should remove sunscreen before going to sleep. This will prevent any unnecessary irritation and clogged pores that the sunscreen may cause.

  5. Wear sunscreen not only on your face, but also on your neck (including the back of the neck) and hands. These are two places that show signs of aging the fastest! It's also a good idea to wear sunscreen on any bare body parts that will be exposed to the sun, such as your ears, lips, hairline, top of the head if bald, balding, or shaved, and top of your feet (especially if you want to avoid flip flop tan lines).

  6. Water-resistant doesn't mean water-proof. Most sunscreens that are water-resistant will stay on your skin even if your skin gets wet (from swimming or from sweat), but that doesn't mean you no longer have to re-apply the sunscreen. Sunscreens that claim to be water-proof must be re-applied because the oils on your skin can strip your skin of the sunscreen even if your skin doesn't get wet.

Sunscreen is one of the best preventative measures you have in your skin care toolbox. But to make sure that sunscreen does its job the best it can, you have to do your job and wear it the right way.

For more questions or concerns about sunscreen, check out the Skin FAQ.

Last updated: September 12, 2012

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