How to wear sunscreen properly (and why you should)
Too many people still underestimate or neglect the protective power of sunscreen. Sunscreen is a product designed to protect human skin from the damaging potential of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that comes from the sun. It’s inexpensive, it’s easy to apply, and it has the power to both improve your skin health and reduce your risk of long-term complications—yet less than 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women regularly use sunscreen when outside for longer than an hour.
In this guide, we’ll explain why sunscreen is so important and how to wear it properly.
The Benefits of Sunscreen
Applying sunscreen protects your skin from UV radiation, but there are several benefits to consider in association with this mechanism of action:
- Better-looking skin. The sun’s rays have an aging effect on the skin. If you’re out in the sun unprotected for prolonged periods of time, especially over the course of years, your skin will eventually take on an aged, dried out look. Applying sunscreen consistently keeps your skin looking healthy and young.
- Prevention of burns. Nobody likes to deal with sunburns. Red skin, itchiness, and lingering pain can keep you up at night and leave you socially embarrassed. Tending to those burns is also a nightmare—but it can all be prevented with sunscreen.
- Prevention of skin cancer. Of course, one of the best-known benefits of sunscreen is its ability to prevent the onset of skin cancer. Repeated and extreme exposure to UV radiation (from the sun and other sources) leads to a much higher risk of skin cancer, but sunscreen can mitigate that risk. Using sunscreen can’t guarantee you won’t get skin cancer—but it will drastically reduce your risk.
How to Use Sunscreen Properly
Of course, these benefits only apply if you use sunscreen properly.
- Buy the right kind. First, make sure you’re buying the right type of sunscreen. Sunscreen is rated based on its “sun protection factor,” or SPF, a measure of its relative power when blocking out the sun’s rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a minimum SPF of 15, but if you’re outside for long periods of time, you’ll want an SPF of 30 or higher. However, you’ll need to be careful here. Many people buy a high SPF sunscreen and get a false sense of security; just because you’re using SPF 50 sunscreen doesn’t mean you can stay outside indefinitely. Additionally, you’ll want to use broad spectrum products that shield against both UVA and UVB rays, and if you’re swimming or exercising intensely, you’ll need a water-resistant product.
- Cover all exposed skin. High points like the face, neck, and arms are common points of application. However, every section of exposed skin should get coverage.
- Apply sunscreen if you’ll be out for an hour or longer. Ideally, you’ll wear sunscreen every time you’re outside, but you’ll definitely need it if you’re going to be outside for an hour or longer.
- Apply sunscreen regardless of weather. Hot sunny days force everyone to consider sunscreen, but sun rays are still damaging in other situations. It’s possible to get sunburned no matter what the temperature is, and UV rays can penetrate clouds; accordingly, even on a cloudy, 55 degree day, you’ll want to apply sunscreen if you’re outside for a prolonged period of time.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. Try to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, giving it plenty of time to “soak in” to your skin for optimal protection. This way, you’ll get peak protection when leaving for the outdoors.
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. Sunscreen wears off over time, often via sweat. Make sure you periodically reapply new layers of sunscreen, every 2 hours or so.
Other Ways to Protect Your Skin
In addition to sunscreen, there are a few important ways you can protect your skin from the sun:
- Wear the right clothes. Long sleeves aren’t the most comfortable choice in summer, but they will keep you protected from the sun’s rays. Also, wear a hat if you can.
- Stay in the shade. Unless you’re intentionally sunbathing, try to stick to shady areas as much as possible. Cover won’t block out all UV radiation, but it can help.
- Avoid staying out too long. Even reapplying sunscreen won’t keep you safe forever. Try not to stay out in the sun for too long.
- Tend to burns. If you do experience a sunburn, take good care of it. Apply lotion regularly, and don’t get burned again.
You don’t have to be perfect with your application of sunscreen, but it’s a topic you should take seriously for your skin’s sake. Summer is heating up, and the more consistently you apply sunscreen, the safer and more comfortable you’ll be.