When I was a kid, I distinctly remember trying to wiggle away as my mom rubbed sunscreen on my face, neck, back, and limbs. It seemed to take way too long for her to rub it in so I could waddle around in the ocean or roll around in the sand. I wish I could say my relationship with sunscreen is better now that I’m older, wiser, and mature enough not to wiggle away from my own hands. But I still feel like applying sunscreen to every inch of my body before a pool day is robbing me of valuable time I could spend floating on one of those cute unicorn-shaped rafts. That said, I’m an adult (and a health editor), so I know that it’s important to apply sunscreen even when I’d rather not—especially to body parts that dermatologists say are easy to overlook.
Sorry, but you absolutely do need to use sunscreen.
Yes, the sun feels delightful on your skin, but the different types of UV light it emits can cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes. UVA rays can lead to signs of aging, and UVB rays can cause sunburns, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most important, too much exposure to either UVA or UVB rays can lead to skin cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Sadly, even a slight tan is actually a mild case of sun damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As you’re lying out, your body sends extra melanin to your skin to protect it from further damage, leading to a darker skin color. If you give those rays enough time to really harm the cells in your skin, it can lead to a sunburn.
To avoid all of this, the AAD recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, meaning it protects from UVA and UVB rays. Both chemical and mineral sunscreens can do this in different ways—the former with chemicals that change UV light to heat that won’t harm your skin, and the latter primarily by creating a physical shield on top of your skin, as SELF previously reported. Knowing which one you’re using helps ensure that you’re applying it correctly.
Chemical sunscreen should be applied about 15 minutes before sun exposure, while mineral sunscreen works immediately. The AAD also suggests using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (or SPF) of at least 30. Reapply as often as recommended on the bottle (typically around every two hours or more often if you’re sweating or coming into contact with water).
It’s not enough just to choose the right sunscreen. You also have to use enough of the stuff. Generally speaking, if a regular-sized bottle of sunscreen lasts you the entire summer, there’s a solid chance you’re not using enough, Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. (Obviously, this depends on how often you do things like take beach trips, but it’s still a good rule of thumb.)
The AAD recommends using about an ounce of sunscreen for your entire body. This is enough to fill a shot glass, which might sound exorbitant. But that really is around how much most adults need in order to get sunscreen on all the right places.
“Sometimes people try to put their sunscreen around their swimsuits, but that’s how you end up missing spots,” Dr. Stevenson says. Even if you do strip down before covering yourself in sunscreen, don’t forget these often-ignored body parts:
1. Your ears
It’s incredibly easy to accidentally skip your ears during sunscreen application, Alyx Rosen, M.D., assistant professor at the Dr. Phillip Frost Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at University of Miami Health System, tells SELF. But applying sunscreen to your ears before you head outside is important. Whether you have short hair, pull your hair back, or just it tuck it back sometimes, chances are your ears will rack up some sun. Even if you’re wearing something like a beach hat, it’s good to protect your ears in case of accidental exposure. Put sunscreen behind your ears, onto their tops, sides, and bottoms, and also onto any other external parts that are visible, Dr. Rosen says.
2. Your scalp and hairline
Dr. Stevenson says that you might not think about your scalp when applying sunscreen if your hair seems to quite literally have it covered. But if your hair is on the thin side or you have a hairstyle that leaves your scalp visible (hello, cornrows), Dr. Stevenson suggests using a sunscreen spray on this vulnerable part of your body. (Be sure you’re not doing this somewhere super windy.) Grabbing a hat is a great alternative, but that sunscreen is necessary if you plan to remove the hat at all. Also, don’t neglect your hairline, Dr. Stevenson says—it deserves some sunscreen love, too.
3. Your eyelids
The skin around your eyes is thin and susceptible to both sun damage and skin cancer, Dr. Rosen says. “People often don’t do a good job of applying sunscreen around the eyes,” she adds. To protect yours, you can use a mineral sunscreen for sensitive skin (which may be less irritating than the chemical kind if it gets in your eyes), Dr. Rosen says, adding that you should wear sunglasses that have broad-spectrum UV protection as well.
4. Your lips
Dr. Rosen often sees boaters and other people who are frequently outdoors come in with actinic cheilitis, or precancerous growths on the outer layer of their lips. Protecting this delicate skin is a must. The CDC recommends using lip balm with broad-spectrum SPF of 15 or greater. If your favorite balm has no SPF, you can use a regular sunscreen on your lips instead. Either way, be diligent about reapplying. “Sunscreen on your lips dissolves if you’re eating and drinking, so you’ll need to be conscious of that,” Dr. Rosen says.
5. Your neck and chest
People typically forget to go over their necks and chests with sunscreen, Dr. Stevenson says. Additionally, if you have short hair or put yours up, you might forget that the back of your neck is going to get a lot of sun when you’re venturing outside. As is the case with other parts of the body, this leaves your skin exposed to potential sun damage.
6. The backs of your hands
Your hands do all the work of covering other parts of your body with sunscreen, and they need just as much protection—if not more. The tops of your hands are almost always exposed to sunlight when you’re outside, Dr. Stevenson says. And, as Dr. Rosen points out, even if you do apply sunscreen to the backs of your hands, frequent handwashing could rinse a lot of it right off. Much like with your lips, you may need to be extra aware of reapplying sunscreen to this spot.
7. Your shins and the backs of your knees
Commit to applying and reapplying sunscreen to your legs, particularly your shins and the backs of your knees, Dr. Rosen says. These are both easy-to-miss spots. This is especially important for women, because the lower legs are the most common site for melanoma to appear, according to the Mayo Clinic.
8. The soles of your feet
While it’s possible to ignore your poor feet entirely when applying sunscreen, most people are especially forgetful about the bottoms of their feet, Dr. Stevenson says. It’s important for everyone to remember to layer some sunscreen onto the soles of their feet before possible exposure, like a day at the beach, but this can be especially key for Black people and anyone else with darker skin. People with dark skin tones are more susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma, a generally rare type of skin cancer that can show up in surprising spots like the bottoms of the feet. This can happen even without much sun exposure, the Mayo Clinic explains, so it’s particularly critical to protect yourself if you have dark skin and are exposing your feet to the sun.
Now that you know some of the most often-overlooked spots when it comes to sunscreen application, take the extra time to show them some attention before you head outdoors. Is it the most fun thing in the world? Nah. But your skin can’t talk, so we’re making this request on its behalf.