Are You Using Sunscreen Correctly?

It's Not Rocket Science, But It Is Mission-Critical for Skin Health

By Karrie Osborn

Today, sunscreen is a no-brainer. What once may have been an annoying reminder from our mothers to slather on the white stuff is now just plain common sense. But while we all might be using sun protection more religiously, we may not be using it correctly.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the best sunscreen is the one people will actually wear. For many families, especially those with young children, this often includes stick and spray sunscreens, in addition to lotions. Find the sunscreen you like and use it. But use it correctly.
“Sticks are easy for under the eyes and the backs of the hands, while spray sunscreens are often easier to apply on children,” says Debra Wattenberg, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “However, it’s important to take precautions when using stick and spray sunscreens to ensure the best protection for you and your family.”
Regardless of the type of sunscreen (lotion, spray, or stick), Wattenberg says it’s important to get a broad-spectrum, water-resistant product that has an SPF of 30 or higher. “Broad spectrum” means that the sunscreen will protect against both types of harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause skin cancer—not just against the ones that cause sunburn.

Stick Sunscreen Application

For the best protection with stick sunscreen, Wattenberg recommends the following tips.
1. For each area of skin you’re protecting, apply four passes back and forth. Doing this will help ensure you’re using enough sunscreen to be protected.
2. Rub it in afterward for an even layer of coverage.

Spray Sunscreen Application

To safely and adequately use spray sunscreen, Wattenberg has the following recommendations.
1. Hold the nozzle close to your skin and spray generously. Most adults need at least 1 ounce of sunscreen—about enough to fill a shot glass—to fully cover the body. Since it can be difficult to determine how much spray sunscreen is enough, a good rule of thumb is to spray until your skin glistens. It’s also important to remember that a typical 6-ounce bottle of spray sunscreen contains six applications.
2. Rub it in thoroughly. To ensure you didn’t miss any spots and that you have an even layer of coverage, rub the sunscreen in after spraying.
3. Avoid inhaling spray sunscreen. Current US Food and Drug Administration regulations do not pertain to spray sunscreens, although the agency continues to evaluate these products to ensure safety and effectiveness. Do not inhale spray sunscreen, and never spray sunscreen around or near your face or mouth. Instead, spray the sunscreen on your hands first and then apply it to your face.
4. Avoid using spray sunscreen on windy days. These conditions make it more difficult to apply the sunscreen and easier to accidentally inhale it.
5. Never apply spray sunscreen near heat or open flame, or while smoking. Although sunscreen isn’t usually flammable, it can be when used in aerosol form. Never spray it by a grill, candles, or other source of fire, and make sure it is thoroughly rubbed in and dry before approaching any open flames.
“No matter what type of sunscreen you use, make sure you reapply it every two hours when outdoors or immediately after swimming or sweating,” says Wattenberg.