Where You’re Not Applying Sunscreen—But Should

These eight areas are among the most-missed spots on your body.

woman applying sunscreen

Medically reviewed in June 2022

Updated on June 20, 2022

Think you’re covered when it comes to sunscreen? Surprise: Many of us aren’t using it right. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), most people apply only 20 to 50 percent of the amount of sunscreen they actually need. Plus, we often miss many of the most sun-sensitive spots. And men are even less likely to apply sunscreen appropriately, putting them at increased risk for many skin cancers. 

Remember, when it’s time to break out your own bottle: Most adults need about a shot glass’s worth of sunscreen for their whole body. You should apply about 15 minutes before heading outdoors to allow for complete absorption, and then again every two hours after that, or right after swimming or sweating. 

Whether you’re spraying or spreading it on, don’t forget to hit these spots:

Your back: Ever end up with a patchy burn from all those places you couldn’t reach? The back is a common site for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer—and that’s especially true for men, reports the American Cancer Society. 

Your face: According to a 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), 30 percent of us skip sunscreen on our face, even when we’re applying it elsewhere. With the vast majority of basal cell carcinomas—the most common type of skin cancer—occurring there, you can bet it’s a prime area for protection. So don’t skimp—use at least a teaspoon’s worth of sunscreen on your face. Worried about breakouts? Look for a sunscreen that is non-comedogenic and wash your face as soon as you’re out of the sun.

Your nose: Ok, so technically it’s part of your face. But since it’s a notorious site for non-melanoma skin cancers, the nose deserves its own shout-out.

Your ears and scalp: These above-the-neck body parts are high-risk, making up a significant portion of all non-melanoma skin cancers in both men and women. Protect both spots with carefully applied sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat.

Your legs and feet: Many of us skip our legs completely when we’re applying sunscreen. That’s no good, especially because they’re one of the most common spots for melanoma in women. Remember to get your ankles, the tops of your feet, and your knees—front and back—when the time comes.

Your forearms and hands: The forearm is another frequent site of melanoma in women—and another place we often neglect to protect. Like your face, your hands are exposed every single day, so give them a little love with a daily moisturizing SPF.

Your lips: A popular spot for both squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma, your lips need protection, too. Safeguard them with lip gloss or lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher.

The edges of clothing: One of the biggest places we skip is right at the edge of our swimsuits or around the straps. When you’re applying sunscreen, be sure to actually move those straps to the side, so you get full, even coverage.

Remember, daily use of sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher can greatly reduce your risk of skin cancer. So, slather it on and get protected!

Article sources open article sources

American Academy of Dermatology. Sunscreen FAQ. 2022. Accessed June 17, 2022.
American Academy of Dermatology. How to Apply Sunscreen. 2022. Accessed June 17, 2022.
Holman DM, Berkowitz Z, et al. Patterns of sunscreen use on the face and other exposed skin among US adults. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016. 73(1), 83–92.e1.
MedScape. Basal Cell Carcinoma. February 14, 2022. Accessed June 17, 2022.
American Cancer Society. What Is Melanoma Skin Cancer? August 14, 2019. Accessed June 17, 2022.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Melanoma. 2022. Accessed June 17, 2022.
Mayo Clinic. Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. May 13, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2022.
Skin Cancer Foundation. Ask the Expert: What Will Help Me Feel Less Nervous About My Lip Cancer? April 21, 2020. Accessed June 17, 2022.
Skin Cancer Foundation. All About Sunscreen. May 2021. Accessed June 20, 2022.

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