Effective Methods of Sunscreen Application

If you ask any dermatologist what the secret is behind healthy, beautiful skin, it’s practically guaranteed that they’ll mention sunscreen. But this skincare product doesn’t just protect us from fine lines, an uneven complexion, or sunburn – it also is a key component to manageing skin conditions such as rosacea and mostly importantly, protects us from potentially life-threatening skin cancers like melanoma.

However, the effectiveness of sunscreen is not just based on the product itself, but on how you use it. Simply put, using the best, most expensive, most dermatologically-recommended sunscreen in the world won’t be able to protect your skin from the sun unless you apply it correctly. 

So if you want to maximise the benefits of your sunscreen, make sure you’re putting it on the way it should be. Here we list 5 methods for effective sunscreen application.


Apply it on all exposed areas of the body

Everything the sunlight touches should be covered by sunscreen. The face, legs, and arms get a lot of attention. But how about the ears, lips, eyelids? How about feet and toes if you’re wearing sandals? How about the backs of your hands? If you don’t cover all your bases, you might find one area aging a lot faster than the rest. 

For the eyes, UV-protection sunglasses in wrap-around style are best for those spending time outdoors. For the lips, use lip balm that offers at least SPF 15 and reapply every few hours and after meal times as it can get wiped away while talking or eating.


Apply a shot glass’ worth of sunscreen

One of the main reasons that people don’t get the full benefits of sunscreen is because they apply too little of it. On average, the majority of people put 20% to 50% less product than they should. 

According to studies, each square centimetre on your body should be covered with 2mg of sunscreen. But that’s pretty difficult to measure when you’re out and about. A good rule of thumb is to dispense a shot glass-worth of sunscreen (around 45mL) on your body. If you’re into baking or cooking, it can also be thought of as 2-3 tablespoons for the body and 1-2 teaspoons from the neck and face.

It may sound like a lot, but applying sunscreen in the right amounts will allow you more effective protection for a longer period of time.


Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure

Sunscreen doesn’t provide instantaneous sun protection the way clothes or shade would. You need to give it time to get absorbed into the skin where it will do its magic. Apply your sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before leaving your home. 

It is very important to follow this rule before you go for a swim or engage in strenuous physical activity. The water and sweat can easily wash off freshly-applied sunscreen, and leave you vulnerable to the effects of the sun.


Know when to reapply sunscreen

Sunscreen loses effectiveness over time and as it gets wiped away. If you slather on the appropriate amount in the morning and have minimal sweating done during the day, you’re probably good for the next 3-4 hours.

But if you’re doing anything to remove that layer of sunscreen protection, you will have to reapply more often. Activities that wipe sunscreen off include sweating, exposure to water, and rubbing motions such as towel drying. In this case, you should apply after you dry yourself off, and ideally wait 20 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun again.



Observing ideal methods of sunscreen application will give you the full protection of the product you’re using. But remember, sunscreen is supposed to be used in conjunction with other sun defense measures, including wearing sun-protective clothing, and seeking shade. 

A combination of these methods will give you the best protection against the sun, and afford you healthier, happier skin.


Li, H., Colantonio, S., Dawson, A., Lin, X., & Beecker, J. (2019). Sunscreen Application, Safety, and Sun Protection: The Evidence. Journal of cutaneous medicine and surgery, 23(4), 357–369.


The information presented on this website and in this article is for general information and example purposes only, does not contain health advice specific for users and must not be relied on for that purpose.  Please see your GP, dermatologist or other health care professional for specific advice.

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