How To Apply Sunscreen: Everything You Need to Know

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Are you applying enough sunscreen? Are you applying sunscreen correctly? Chances are that the answer to both questions is a resounding “no”! According to the experts, most people don’t know how to apply sunscreen or simply don’t apply enough.

For example, a study carried out by the American Academy of Dermatology discovered that while 80% of Americans are aware that they should apply sunscreen frequently when outdoors, very few actually do.1

Let’s refresh our memory by getting a complete guide on how to apply sunscreen, including how much and when. Our goal? To make sure you’re protected from the sun’s harmful rays, 365 days a year.

How do you apply sunscreen step by step?

First of all, it’s important to consider which parts of your skin will be exposed to the sun when you apply or reapply sunscreen. Think about it: your face, neck, and back of the hands are exposed to sunlight throughout the day, even while indoors or driving in your car, whereas your body is often protected by clothing or a bit more hidden from the sun while out and about.

So let’s break this down into applying sunscreen on the face and neck and applying sunscreen on the body.

STEP 1: How to apply sunscreen on your face

For your face, the equivalent of two full finger lengths should be enough to cover it. That means running your sunscreen down the length of your index and middle finger (as shown in the photo below) and voila—that’s the perfect amount.

Don’t forget the tops of your ears, and more easily-missed spots like just above your cheekbones, or the sides of your face. You should use more if you need to cover the scalp or other areas beyond the face.

Which goes on first, moisturizer or sunscreen?

Whether it’s a chemical or physical sunscreen, it’s important to apply sunscreen as the last step. So, if you usually wear moisturizer, this should be applied before the sunscreen.

Can I skip moisturizer and use sunscreen?

Long story short, it’s recommended that you don’t, especially during drier months, such as January or February. You simply need to make sure that your skin is protected with the right SPF level, whether it is included in a make-up product or a moisturizer. As indicated by the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), you should apply SPF 30 on a daily basis if you want your skin to be properly protected.

Can I put makeup over sunscreen?

Yes! Although we always recommend sunscreen as the last step in your routine, makeup can in fact be applied after. Also, if you’re going to be outdoors or exposed to the sun for longer periods, you can always opt for tinted sunscreen.

STEP 2: How to apply sunscreen on your body

In terms of your body, a good rule of thumb is to apply enough sunscreen to fill a 1oz shot glass, for all exposed areas of skin (for example, when you’re wearing a swimsuit). It’s better to be generous, as not applying enough sunscreen and spreading it thinly means the amount of protection the sunscreen offers will be reduced.

When using a spray sunscreen, it can be difficult to measure exactly how much you’re applying. Spray sunscreen must be rubbed into the skin to offer protection, not simply sprayed on top of the skin and left.

Spray the product maximum 2 inches away from the skin, and spray generously, until a sheen appears on the area of skin the spray is directed at. Once you have covered an area of the body with the spray sheen, it’s important to rub the sunscreen in and continue to reapply throughout the day.

Should I wear sunscreen everyday?

You should wear sunscreen everyday since you’ll likely be exposed to the sun rays at some point. This doesn’t mean you should only wear sunscreen when the sun is out and shining – the sun emits harmful rays year-round, so sunscreen is essential whatever the weather. 

In terms of when to apply sunscreen during the day, make sure you apply it 15 minutes before exposure (e.g before you leave the house). When out in the sun, you should be re-applying:

  • Every two hours
  • Every time you sweat heavily (e.g during exercise) or after swimming
  • Immediately after towel drying

Which is better, SPF 30 or SPF 50?

The SPF number tells you the average time it takes for UVB radiation to burn skin when using sunscreen as indicated on the label under normal sun conditions — versus not using any sunscreen. Meaning that with perfect application of SPF 30, it would take around 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen.

But there are a few things to note here. This timeframe depends on your skin type — fair skin types can burn faster than average. Moreover, most people don’t apply enough sunscreen, in amount or frequency. So, it’s essential to apply sunscreen as specified on the product label.

So, which sunscreen should I use?

Many dermatologists recommend using mineral sunscreens with active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are generally suitable for a wide range of skin types, including sensitive skin. These sunscreens work by forming a ‘shield’ on top of the skin, helping to deflect the sun’s rays.

Physical sunscreens tend to have a thicker, chalkier formula than chemical sunscreens, due to the active ingredients. Our mineral sunscreen formulas are designed to be ultralight and fast-absorbing, spreading smoothly over the skin without the typical white, greasy finish left by other formulas.

What are the disadvantages of using sunscreen?

It’s not that using sunscreen has disadvantages, but using the wrong one for your skin might have. For example, if you have oily, acne-prone, or sensitive skin, using the wrong sunscreen will increase oil production or cause more irritation. 

You also need to make sure that it doesn’t contain aminobenzoic or para-aminobenzoic acids (PABA), as these are likely to cause skin irritation, besides staining your clothes.2

It’s important to find a sunscreen that is suitable for your skin and that you feel truly comfortable with; after all, not wearing sunscreen is not an option! Whether it’s raining, sunny, or cloudy, applying sunscreen should always be the last step in your skincare routine. If you want to know the expected risk from exposure to the sun’s UV rays, check out ISDIN’s Local UV Index Tool.

1. “Confused about sunscreen? New American Academy of Dermatology survey shows Americans need a refresher on sunscreen application and SPF.” American Academy of Dermatology, 25 May 2021, https://www.aad.org/news/aad-survey-shows-americans-need-sunscreen-education. Accessed 19 October 2022.
2. “PARA-AMINOBENZOIC ACID (PABA): Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing and Reviews.” WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1004/para-aminobenzoic-acid-paba. Accessed 20 October 2022.
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Article written and reviewed by:

Editorial Team

Our namesake embodies the spirit of embracing life and all its wonder. As wellness journalists, we explore topics that invigorate the senses and keep curiosity alive. We believe that glowing skin is the result of a healthy body and mind. Weaving beauty with science, we aim to inspire you to live young at every age.

Medical Communication Manager

In addition to ten years as a primary care doctor, Aurora has over 23 years of experience developing and communicating healthcare products, most recently in dermo-cosmetics. She has co-authored many publications in dermatological journals and spoken at international health & beauty conferences. Ref: Colegio de Medicos de Madrid numero 282840102

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