Best Practices for Applying Sunscreen

Is there anything worse than ending up with a painful, lobster-red sunburn after a day of fun?

Well, yes, maybe—for one thing, studies show that if you have had five or more sunburns throughout your life, your risk for skin cancer doubles. And, for another, there’s that nagging voice in your head (maybe it sounds a bit like your mother?) wondering why you didn’t put sunscreen on in the first place.

It is not only important to wear sunscreen, but to follow a few rules when you’re applying it.

  1. Put it on early. Put it on at least half an hour before you head outside, so it has a chance to get absorbed into your skin. This ensures your sunscreen will protect you properly.
  2. Put it on often. When you’re out in the sun all day, reapply your sunscreen every hour.
  3. Put on the right amount. Make sure you’re putting enough on, or it just won’t be effective. Use about a tablespoon for your face alone, and two ounces for the rest of your body (an ounce is about the amount that fits into the palm of your hand).
  4. Put it on the right way. Shake the bottle before you start, so that none of the necessary ingredients are left at the bottom of the bottle. Rub it into your skin completely until you can’t see it anymore.
  5. Choose the right kind of sunscreen. If you burn easily, then you need a sunscreen with a high SPF. Make sure you use a waterproof sunscreen if you’re taking a trip to the pool, or if you know you’ll end up sweating. If you have oily or sensitive skin, there are special kinds of sunscreen you can buy so that you don’t dread putting it on (or worse, so that you don’t avoid putting it on altogether!).
  6. Don’t neglect to put sunscreen on just because you think you are going to be outside for a short time. For one thing, the sun can damage skin quickly. For another, you never know when you might get stuck outside talking to your neighbor for a couple of hours.
  7. Don’t forget some commonly overlooked areas—the tops of your ears, the back of your neck, and the top of your head. There is even lip balm available that works as sunscreen. You should also wear some under your clothes—the sun can easily get through your t-shirt to burn you.
  8. Make sure you put it on your kids (no matter how much they argue with you about it and wriggle around!). Kids need sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and it should also be a kind that blocks out both UVA and UVB rays. There are a lot of different brands of sunscreen out there for kids—ask your pediatrician what kind they recommend if you’re not sure which kind to pick.
  9. Even if you are using sunscreen, don’t stop there. Use other protection, such as a hat and sunglasses. Don’t stay out in the sun too long.
  10.  Make sure you check to see if last year’s sunscreen has expired before you use it, because some sunscreen ingredients will break down and make your sunscreen useless.
  11. Make sure you avoid getting sunscreen in your mouth or eyes.
  12. Don’t forget that even on a cloudy day, the sun’s rays can still burn.

Sunburns aren’t just a nuisance—they can be dangerous. And yet they are easily preventable. By buying the right kind of sunscreen and knowing how to apply it properly, you can save yourself—and your skin—a lot of pain.

Read some summer oral health tips here.

About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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