two people float in a pool with spots of sunburn on their eyelids and ears and armpits

Applying Sunscreen Correctly

I remember some of my first impressions of sunscreen. I don’t mean the coconut baking oil that I used to put on that smelled and felt great. I mean those early versions of sunscreen that were chalky and smelled like a combination of chemicals and burning plastic. Just the vapors from that burned my eyes. I tried to put on as little as possible to keep from burning and also keep from staining my clothes and everything else it touched.

So many questions

Well, fortunately, manufacturers have listened to whiny consumers like me and have a much better product. Now, we have a variety of choices when it comes to smells, and SPF levels and it feels less greasy. We can spray it or squeeze it on. It also comes in moisturizer and lip balm. Yet, I still am trying to figure how best to apply it. Is simply spraying it on good enough or do I also need to rub it in? Do I use different amounts in different places? How do I apply it on correctly?

Am I missing something?

According to researchers in the United Kingdom, people are prone to miss an important part of the face when applying sunscreen.1 A recent study among college students showed that they failed to cover 11% of their faces when applying sunscreen and a full 17% of their faces were left unprotected when using moisturizer (with sunscreen). Which part was most often missed?1

“The area around the eyelids was most often forgotten. The authors of the study warn that the face — particularly the area around the eyelids — has a higher risk of skin cancer.”1 According to Dr. Austin McCormick, an ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon and the co-author of the study, one must give particular attention to the eyelid area when applying sunscreen or moisturizer with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF).1 This is why alternative methods for protecting eyelids, such as wearing UV filter sunglasses is advisable.

Medical professional recommendations

This makes sense to me because one of my major problems with sunscreen has been the way that they burn my eyes when I sweat or swim. The last place that I have wanted to apply that goop has been on my eyelids, but now I know better. But what about other recommendations regarding its application? Here is what the American Academy of Dermatology has to say about applying sunscreen:2

  • Choose a sunscreen that is 30 SPF or higher, no more suntan oil with an SPF of 2.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 15 before you go out so that it can absorb into your skin, no more applying after you have been laying out for 30 minutes.
  • Apply enough to cover all exposed skin (Most adults require about a shot glass full), no more “thin coverage’’ or missing the ears, eyelids or feet.
  • Rub it in (even if you spray), no more spray and go.
  • Apply to scalp (that means those with thinning hair), no more charred foreheads.
  • Reapply every two hours or immediately after sweating or swimming, no more leaving it in the car when you go to the beach.
  • Don’t use expired product, no more sunscreen from 2006.2

Bottom line is sunscreen has a track record of sun protection but is much less effective when not used properly. This involves planning, being thorough and being detailed. Have fun this spring as the birds sing and the batters swing and don’t forget your eyelids.

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