Sunscreen Tips: 6 Steps to Use it Properly


You’ve heard that protecting your skin from sun damage is important. But do you know how to use sunscreen properly? Read on to learn why and how often to wear sunscreen, and other sun protection tips.

How sunscreen protects your skin from sun damage

Sunscreen absorbs, reflects, or scatters ultraviolet (UV) rays to shield the skin from sun damage.  Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays, whereas mineral sunscreens such as zinc oxide block and reflect UV rays.

Skin is more than a physical barrier. It’s our first line of defense against various pathogens, and it’s the largest organ in the body. So protecting it is crucial for health and longevity.

Why you should wear sunscreen daily

While you need some vitamin D from the sun, direct exposure is highly damaging to the skin’s DNA. UVB rays cause sunburn, and UVA rays can lead to premature aging, a weakened immune system, and even skin cancer, which kills nearly 20 Americans every day. 

According to Dr. Enrizza P. Factor, clinical dermatologist and researcher with, “On a daily basis, the DNA in your cells is developing mutations and errors that are generally handled by machinery within your cells. But ultraviolet rays from the sun lead to mutations that the cell may not be able to overcome, leading to uncontrolled growth and eventual skin cancer. And the scariest thing about this is that usually, you can’t even see it happening until it’s too late.”

“Even if you don’t burn, you still need to use sunscreen,” Dr. Factor adds. “Unless you live in a cave, you’re not immune to the effects of the sun.” This includes those with darker skin tones. 

But it is possible to get your vitamin D without the risk. 

How to use sunscreen properly

To protect your skin without causing damage later on, use these sunscreen protection tips all year long.

1. Check the expiration date

Like other personal care products, sunscreen eventually expires. 

Most mineral sunscreens have a shelf life of two years compared with chemical sunscreens, which can last three or more years. After that point, it won’t offer much–if any–protection from sun damage. So check the date before applying.

2. Store sunscreen properly

Exposure to heat and sunlight will affect a product’s shelf life, and fluctuating temperatures can cause the ingredients in sunscreen to expire early. 

Keep sunscreen in a cool, dark place–ideally between 59 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re outdoors, wrap it in a towel to keep out excess heat.

3. Opt for higher SPF–but not necessarily very high

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures the level of protection from UVB rays sunscreen provides before you’ll start to burn. So SPF 30 is definitely safer than SPF 4…but past a certain point, the higher you go with SPF, the smaller the difference in protection, as you’ll see below:

  • SPF 15 filters out 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 filters out 97%
  • SPF 50 filters 98%
  • SPF 100 about 99%

It’s also worth noting that higher SPF usually means more harsh chemicals, which can irritate sensitive skin, potentially disrupt hormones, and even damage coral reefs in the ocean. Chemical sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate are banned in Hawaii for this reason.

To reduce sun damage without risking unwanted side effects, choose a sunscreen with SPF 30-50. And make sure it’s broad spectrum; that means it blocks UVA rays, too.

4. Apply before leaving the house

It takes 15 minutes for sunscreen to absorb into the skin and start working, so don’t wait until you’re out in the sun to protect yourself.

Dr. Factor suggests applying sunscreen daily, but paying “special attention before prolonged sun exposure or when at the beach or among snow, since the reflectivity of water and ice amplifies the sun’s rays.” 

5. Put sunscreen everywhere

Don’t just put sunscreen on the obvious, easy-to-reach areas like your arms and legs. Cover the more sensitive areas like your neck, ears, feet, and back, too. 

According to Dr. Factor, if you’re going to spend time outdoors, you should apply “about an ounce 15 to 30 minutes before you go out–and once again soon after you get outside.” An ounce is about the amount to fill a shot glass, and should cover your body.

If your hair is thinning, apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide-brimmed hat, too. Wear an SPF 15 lip balm, as well, and protective clothing if possible.

6. Reapply sunscreen often

Putting on sunscreen at the start of the day is a good habit, but it won’t last all day–even if your sunscreen is water resistant. 

Dr. Factor recommends reapplying sunscreen “every two to three hours, especially after swimming or sweating.” No sunscreen is completely waterproof, so if you’re getting wet, reapply every 80 minutes.

Dr. Factor also recommends avoiding times of peak sun exposure, between 10am and 4am. “Enjoy the sun, but enjoy it with sunscreen,” she adds.

Armed with these useful tips, you’ll be free to enjoy the sun and get your daily dose of vitamin D–without suffering any harmful effects from its rays.

Carrie Solomon is a freelance health writer, web copywriter, and passionate wellness enthusiast. She’s on a mission to help wellness-focused companies everywhere educate, engage, and inspire their audiences to make the world a healthier, happier place. Learn more about her at or on LinkedIn.


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