Charleston Dermatology Tip: The Proper Way to Apply Sunscreen

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After reading our previous blog post on sunscreen, New FDA Rules on Sunscreen, you should be aware of how to choose the right sunscreens for effective protection. However, the correct application of sunscreen isn’t monitored like the label requirements and can make as much or more of an impact on your skin’s protection from the sun. Living in sunny, warm Charleston means that you’ll need to take extra precautions to reduce your risk of skin cancer.

As a dermatologist located in the Lowcountry, we receive many inquiries regarding sunscreen application: How often should you apply sunscreen? ‘Frequent’ is a vague term often used on labels, but doesn’t offer much depth in instruction. And how much is an adequate amount to apply? How early prior to going outdoors do you need to apply?

These important factors can make a vast difference in the effectiveness of your sunscreen, so follow the steps below according to the AAD for the proper way to protect your skin.


Who needs sunscreen, you ask? Well that’s a trick question – because everyone needs to wear sunscreen. Skin cancer appears on people of all skin colors, of which many incidents could have been avoided if proper skincare had been implemented.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, affecting more than 2 million people with more than 3.5 million skin cancers. Applying sunscreen the correct way is crucial for everyone to having healthy skin.


The AAD recommends everyone use sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum protection (UVA and UVB rays), SPF 30 or higher, and lotions that are water resistant. (Check out our blog to help you pick the right one.)


Apply sunscreen every day. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can pass through the clouds and penetrate your skin. In addition, snow and sand increase the need for sunscreen. Ever gotten a goggle tan-line from going skiing? That’s because snow reflects 80 percent of the sun’s rays. Make sure you apply sunscreen 15 minutes BEFORE going outside.

How much?

Most people only apply around 25% of the recommended amount of sunscreen. In reality, you must wear a generous amount to cover your skin completely – a full ounce, the amount of one full shot glass, should be enough to cover all of your exposed areas.

Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or excessively sweating, according to the directions on the bottle. Studies have shown that applying every 20-30 minutes is more effective than waiting 2 hours.

Last but not least, make sure you’re covering those tricky spots – lips, ears, scalp and the tops of feet, for example. Your lips are also at risk of cancer, so apply a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher for full coverage.

Thinking back, do you think you’ve been applying enough sunscreen for adequate protection? Have you noticed yourself using more sunscreen with the new FDA regulations in place?

New FDA Rules on Sunscreen

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It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry, especially when it comes to protecting your skin. That is why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come up with new rules for sunscreen manufacturers and labelers to better protect consumers and their knowledge of the products they are using.

In 2011, the FDA announced significant changes to sunscreen products in order to help consumers make buying decisions and to help them use these products to protect themselves more efficiently. The measures being taken include the following:

    • Establishing standards for testing and effectiveness of sunscreen and requiring labels to accurately reflect test results
    • A regulation proposed limiting the maximum SPF value label to “SPF 50+”
    • A data request for safety and effectiveness information formulated in dosage forms (i.e., sprays)
    • A draft guidance for sunscreen manufacturers on how to test and label their products according to these new measures

On June 18, 2012, the final FDA regulations became effective that determined which products are allowed to say “Broad Spectrum” on their label. When doing so, the FDA didn’t want to commence a shortage of sunscreen available, so the compliance dates for testing and labeling were moved to December 17.

Products that pass the broad spectrum test provide UVB and UVA protection and will be properly labeled as such. Sunscreens that aren’t broad spectrum will be labeled with the following warning, “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.”

There will be water resistance claims on the front label stating either 40 minutes or 80 minutes based on how long the user will get the expected SPF level of sun protection while swimming or sweating. In addition, labels are no longer allowed to say “waterproof” and “sweatproof” or identified as a “sunblock.”

Finally, sunscreens aren’t allowed to claim instant protection upon application or that users are still being protected after two hours from application, unless they submit accurate data and it’s approved by the FDA.

With these new regulations being rolled out, you will be better informed as to which sunscreens suit your needs. Before buying any sunscreen, make sure you read the labels front and back to ensure you know what you are purchasing. Don’t forget that not all sunscreens are made equal, so choose wisely! And when in doubt, contact us and we can provide any information needed.

What do you think of the FDA’s stricter regulations?

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