The Right Way to Apply Sunscreen

Did you get sunburned despite applying sunscreen? It’s likely user error was involved: Many people fail to apply enough sunscreen, forget to reapply it after spending long periods in the sun, or use an expired product. Here’s how to get the most protection from your sunscreen, with advice from the American Academy of Dermatology.

1. Go with high numbers. That means a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Other must-have features: water resistance and broad-spectrum coverage. Broad-spectrum coverage refers to protection from two types of ultraviolet (UV) light called UVA and UVB rays.

2. Apply it before going outside. Give your skin about 15 minutes to absorb the sunscreen.

3. Don’t skimp. You’ll need a minimum of an ounce, or approximately the amount you can hold in your palm.

4. Hit all exposed areas. All bare skin needs protection, so don’t forget those easily missed places on your body, such as your neck, ears, scalp (if your hair is thinning), and the tops of your feet. Get help applying sunscreen to those hard-to-reach areas, such as the back. And don’t ignore your lips: Choose a lip balm with SPF 15 or higher.

5. Reapply to avoid the fry. That means reapplying sunscreen every two hours or right after swimming. If you’re sweating a lot, reapply often, as well.

6. Play it safe on cloudy days. You can burn when it’s overcast, so slather on the sunscreen. 

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into in 2018.