How to apply sunscreen correctly – the sun protection guide

Wear a sunhat for good sun protection of your face and neck

The summer has come here in the Northern Hemisphere and every Dane is sunbathing half naked like there’s no tomorrow – this pale sample included (but following the rules of proper sun protection, obviously).

Regardless the joys of the sun beaming down on us, we must protect our skin to prevent chronic sun damage such as wrinkles, freckles, brown spots, mottled pigmentations and skin cancers.

However, the amount of sunscreen, when and how often you apply it during the day is crucial if you want sufficient sun protection.

In fact, behavioural studies show that people often apply far less than the recommended amount of sunscreen, resulting in a useless sun protection, and that people in general don’t know basic facts about sun protection1,2 (scribbles note to self to write a SPF guide blog post).

 

How much?

It’s a very well studied dermatological subject and we know that the thickness of the sunscreen layer applied directly correlates with the sun protection and people often achieve only 20-50% protection of the SPF (sun protection factor) labelled on the bottle3. That could explain all the sun burns that people get each year despite the fact that they’ve been using sunscreen – oops. But despair no more, researchers has come up with ‘the teaspoon rule’ – a teaspoon of sunscreen that is – to help us apply the right amount.

  • One teaspoon in total for your face, neck and ears
  • One teaspoon per arm
  • One teaspoon per leg
  • One teaspoon for the front of your torso
  • One teaspoon for your back

If you’re going skinny dipping or sunbathing in your birthday suit use one handful (circa 40 millilitres) for the whole body. For children “one handful for the whole body” applies too, just the child’s own handful, and use half a teaspoon for the child’s face, neck and ears4. More is more here, we wouldn’t want a sunburned child!

 
 
And this is just half a teaspoon of sunscreen - keep pumping

And this is just half a teaspoon of sunscreen – keep pumping

When and how often?

Many recommendations and “good advices” exist, when it comes to when and how often you should apply sunscreen – some more evidence based than others. A recent study concludes following thumb rule: To achieve the full protective effect of your sunscreen, it should be applied to the exposed skin 30 minutes before going out in the sun and reapplied 30 minutes after the sunbathing has begun. AND reapplied if you’ve been sweating excessively, e.g. exercising (who does that when it’s warm and sunny?), bathing or toweling4.

A Good Tip!

I’ve practiced the teaspoon rule this summer and I was truly surprised how much sunscreen there can be on a teaspoon – it’s certainly a lot more than I used to apply. At first I slapped all the sunscreen on at once, more than my skin could absorb, resulting in a slippery face and sweaty feeling. But I’ve worked my way around it and my trick to avoid a SPF-sweating face is to apply it in two or three layers, so my skin has time to absorb the product.
The teaspoon rule - the actual amount of a teaspoon sunscreen

The teaspoon rule – the actual amount of a teaspoon sunscreen

 

 The 3 golden rules of sun protection 

 Although the most important factor in sun protection is to apply the right amount of sunscreen to begin with3,5, sunscreen shouldn’t stand alone.
Alongside with your SPF-routine in the morning and reapplication during the day, you should stay in the shade when possible (just think of the old tin foil-using wrinkled tan lady in There’s Something About Mary  – we would want that! Yes I’m sun tanning shaming 😛 )
And lastly you should wear a sun hat – we’re talking Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts at the derby sized hat, (what’s up with all the movie references?) leaving your face, neck and partly shoulders in the shade6. In fact, wearing sun protective clothes (i.e. clothes!) should be preferred to sunscreens5.
In conclusion, if you want to protect your skin correctly from sun damage (wrinkles, pigmentations, skin cancer) follow these golden rules
 
1) Sunscreen + reapplication
2) Seek the shade
3) Sun hat (and sun protective clothes)
Take care in the sun!
 
XO Cæcilie
 

1. Behrens Cl & Darsø L: Danskernes solvaner i den danske sommer 2013 – en kortlægning. Kræftens Bekæmpelse og Trygfonden smba (TryghedsGruppen smba), 2014.
2. Wickenheiser M et al., Sun Protection Preferences and Behaviors among Young Adult Males during Maximum Ultraviolet Radiation Exposure Activities, Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013 Aug; 10(8): 3203–3216. 10.3390/ijerph10083203
3. Stokes R.P., Diffey B.L. How well are sunscreen users protected? Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photomed. 1997;13:186–188. 10.1001/archdermatol.2007.45
4. Diffey B (2001). “When should sunscreen be reapplied?”. J Am Acad Dermatol. 45(6): 882–5., 10.1067/mjd.2001.117385
5. Lautenschlager S, Wulf HC, Pittelkow MR, Photoprotection. The Lancet Vol 370; 228-537, 2007. 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)60638-2

14 Comments

  1. Isa
    7. August 2016 / 16:08

    Hello Cæcilie,
    thank you for your information, I really enjoyed your post about sun protection! I have rosacea, so I need to apply sunscreen everyday. Unfortunately, all of the products I have used so far are very oily and leave my face look greasy. Do you have any product recommendations for me?

    • Roos
      5. January 2017 / 16:23

      Hi Isa,

      This is a late reaction, because I only just now discovered this very informative website, and maybe you won’t even read this, but I had to give you a tip about a non-greasy sun-gel from Eucerin. It’s called sun gel-creme face oil control spf 50 and it works awesomely as a primer underneath your make-up too. The only downside is that it contains alcohol, but it works wonderfully and you can easily use the right amount of sunscreen without looking like a discoball!

      • 5. January 2017 / 21:37

        Hi Roos, thanks for the tip, sounds promising!
        I’ll have to look into the sun-gel from Eucerin and see if it’s available in Denmark. A quick glance at the ingredients no EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals) so far.

  2. 21. March 2017 / 8:31

    I thought we only need 1/2 teaspoon for the whole face and neck?

  3. An Glorieux
    20. April 2017 / 3:06

    Hi Caecilie,
    Love your hat! I was wondering if your Danish brand is a physical (zinc oxide) sunscreen. I just watched your fall make up look from 2015 and noticed you did not add sunscreen as an extra step in your skincare routine. I was just curious if you do not wear it year round? You have such perfect skin!
    I think the Eucerin mentioned above is a chemical sunscreen, no?

    • 21. May 2017 / 9:06

      Hi An, I usually use SPF from March to September – and on winterdays when I know I’ll be out the whole day. If there’s SPF in my foundation I might skip the SPF (back in the days) but now I never leave out my SPF 🙂

    • 18. September 2017 / 14:06

      No I didn’t usa an SPF in that video (the Charlotte foundation contains SPF 15, although you don’t apply a teaspoon of foundation, so the protection will never be SPF 15). October and until april is where I only apply SPF on days where I know I’m going to be out all day.

  4. An Glorieux
    20. April 2017 / 3:11

    PS: I mean the fall make up birthday video from 2015…

  5. Bernadette
    26. May 2017 / 8:18

    Hi Cecilie,
    What step is sunscreen in your morning skincare routine? I’m always in doubt, wether to apply it before or after using my moisturizer.

    • 1. June 2017 / 13:58

      I use the sunscreen FACE 15 from the Danish brand Derma (you can buy them online). As their formula is tailored for the face, I don’t use anything underneath (apart from my hyaluronic acid from The ordinary). XO Cæcilie

    • 18. September 2017 / 13:04

      I you a sunscreen tailored for the face, so it’s one step. You could easily apply a moisturizer underneath our SPF, but I recommend finding a sunscreen made for the face. XO C

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