You’re Not Using Sunscreen Right. Here’s How.


At the risk of sounding like your mother, you need to wear sunscreen. You probably know this already, but I’ll be that you still don’t do it. In fact, a 2013 study by the Center for Disease Control found that only 14.3% of men regularly wear adequate sunscreen. Even hoping that this number has climbed since, it’s shockingly low. Especially given the fact that about 9,500 people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Not to mention, 90% of skin aging has been linked to sun exposure.

I’m not saying this all to freak you out, but instead to make it clear how common this problem is. Men particularly don’t take enough care to protect themselves against the sun and causes them to be prone to more aggressive forms of skin cancer (coupled with the fact that wait longer to see a doctor), according to dermatologists.

It’s a particular issue on your face, which is exposed to sun year round, whether it’s sunny or not. Think of it this way: even if your body is covered, your face is exposed. If you spend only 15 minutes outside per day going to work and 15 minutes coming home, that’s 30 minutes of sun exposure per day. That adds up to over five thousand minutes of sun exposure per year without even trying. Wearing daily sunscreen on your face is the best way to protect against sun damage. You should wear it every day year-round. For times when other skin on your body is exposed, wear it there too.

But wearing sunscreen is only half the battle; using it properly is the other half. Even if you’re consistent and diligent about your sunscreen use, you may not be doing it right. Here’s how to use it for the best protection.

Wear Sunscreen Every Day

The sun’s UV rays are hitting you all the time, even when you don’t think they are. That means UV rays are bombarding your skin even when you’re in your car or sitting in your office by a window. And this happens even when it’s cloudy or overcast (have you ever gotten sunburned on a cloudy day at the beach?). This means that any time you have exposed skin, that skin needs to be protected.
The issue is that most of us don’t want to smell like the beach when we’re about to walk into a board meeting. Men particularly don’t like the feel of traditional sunscreen either and say the biggest reason they don’t wear it is because it feels heavy on their skin or makes it feel greasy. Thankfully, we live in the modern world, where sunscreens come in a variety of forms. Look for lightweight fluids and sprays formulated for daily use. They’ll offer SPF protection without leaving you feel greasy or chalky. Apply a facial sunscreen after your moisturizer (bonus points if your moisturizer already has SPF) and apply body sunscreen before you get dressed.

Wear SPF 30 or Higher

SPF numbers refer to the amount of time the product will protect you from the sun’s rays. SPF 30, for instance, means you can stay in the sun 30 times longer without burning than if you were wearing no sunscreen at all. Even if you tan easily and don’t burn often, you should wear a minimum SPF 30 at all times, according to the American Academy of Dermatology guidelines. Fairer skin that burns easily can usually use extra protection - go up to SPF 50 to be safe. They also say you should always choose one that is broad spectrum (which means it protects against UVA and UVB rays) and is water resistant. Always remember that SPF does not compound, so even if you mix different levels, you’re only getting the protection of the highest number you used.

Put On More Than You Think You Need

The reality of sunscreen is that even if you’re using it often, most of us aren’t using enough of it. The AAD recommends 1 ounce with each application - about the amount to fill a shot glass - on your entire body. This is easier when you’re applying liquid sunscreens, but trickier when using a spray. If you’re spraying, always apply more than you think you need. Don’t forget to hit all exposed skin like the back of your neck, the insides of your knees and elbows, and the tops of your ears.

Don’t Forget to Reapply

Even if you’re using a sunscreen with a higher SPF, you still need to reapply often. This is especially important if you’re spending a large amount of time in the sun. The AAD advises reapplying sunscreen to your body and face every two hours and immediately after swimming or sweating.

Mineral or Chemical: Find One You Will Actually Wear

There’s a lot of conversation right now around the effects of traditional chemical sunscreens, which work by absorbing the rays that hit your skin instead of deflecting them. Ingredients like oxybenzone have been said to contribute to the deterioration of coral reefs and some have claimed they can have damaging effects on our bodies (medical studies are still ongoing). Furthermore, dermatologists generally recommend physical sunscreens, which use minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, to form a physical barrier on your skin. They often claim that these physical sunscreens offer more complete sun protection.

Whatever side of the debate you fall on, the most important thing is that you use sunscreen at all. If mineral sunscreens leave you feeling chalky or greasy, look for one that’s lightweight or use a chemical sunscreen. If you’re worried about the possible effects of chemicals, find a physical sunscreen you don’t mind the feel of. Nothing should stop you from wearing it at all.

Even Darker Skin Needs Sunscreen

People with darker skin have a natural protection against the sun in the form of melanin (higher concentrations of the stuff is what gives skin darker shades). Because of that, many people with darker skin don’t think they need to wear sunscreen. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Any exposed skin risks sun damage, whether it’s cancer or just premature aging. Darker skin tones are also more prone to hyperpigmentation (light or dark spots) caused by the sun. If you have darker skin, and find that sunscreens leave you looking chalky or grey, use a clear version.

Don’t Forget Your Head

It’s a reality of life as a man that we start losing our hair, some quicker than others. But many men who have thin spots or completely bald heads forget to put sunscreen on their domes. Any time you apply sunscreen (which, just to remind you, should be every day), don’t forget to apply it to any place your scalp is exposed. This could mean a bald spot on the back of your head, the part in your hair, or the entire scalp. Look for easy-to-use sprays that won’t stick to any hair that is there and leave the follicles greasy and clogged. And then wear a hat for good measure.