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There’s a reason sunburns make more sense as a makeup trend: the real kind are burns.
That means they’re painful, not to mention dangerous.
For some people, sunburns might even make them self-conscious about their appearance.
That’s where sunscreen comes in. But how much should you use to get optimum protection? Experts weigh in below on just how much SPF to apply to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
Whether it’s a tried-and-true skin care regimen, how often you wash your hair, or the cosmetics you’re curious about, beauty is personal.
That’s why we rely on a diverse group of writers, educators, and other experts to share their tips on everything from the way product application varies to the best sheet mask for your individual needs.
We only recommend something we genuinely love, so if you see a shop link to a specific product or brand, know that it’s been thoroughly researched by our team.
Slathering on sunscreen is just a good idea.
One of the most effective ways to protect your skin is by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.
“We can protect things from building up that can increase premature aging and the risk of skin cancer,” says Erum N. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist and the CEO and founder of sun-safe clothing brand AmberNoon.
But Ilyas says using the right amount of sunscreen is an important step in reducing your risk of sun damage.
So how much does she recommend?
Put one ounce of sunscreen on your entire body, or enough to fill one shot glass. And don’t forget your face.
Your head and neck make up 4 percent of your surface area, according to Cynthia Bailey, MD, a board certified dermatologist and the founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care.
Do the math, and that’s about .04 ounces of sunscreen that you’ll need to put on your face.
The bottom line
For most people, experts suggest putting one ounce of sunscreen on your entire body, or enough to fill one shot glass.
Then, add .04 ounces of sunscreen on your face, or enough to fill just the bottom of a shot glass.
Admittedly, .04 ounces can be hard to visualize when you’re sitting on a beach chair with your toes in the sand.
It turns out: You can use everyday items to measure how much sunscreen to put on your face.
How much is enough?
Need a quick conversion or a handy visual for how much sunscreen to put on your face? Try these on for size when slathering on the ‘screen.
- .04 oz.
- 1/3 of a teaspoon
- 1–2 milliliters
- 1–2 grams
- a finger (from tip to first finger crease)
- enough to fill just the bottom of a shot glass
- a nickel-sized dollop
Measuring spoons aren’t just for cooking. You can also use them to ensure you’re slathering on the optimal amount of sunscreen.
Ilyas and Bailey both say measuring sunscreen with a teaspoon may be the easiest way to do it.
“We tend to recommend 1/4 teaspoon or 1/3 teaspoon on the face,” Ilyas says.
Ilyas suggests opting for 1/3 teaspoon for extra protection if you’ll be in a sunny area, or if you’re generally prone to sunburns.
If part of your job requires measuring things with beakers or syringes, you may find it helpful to think in terms of milliliters.
Additionally, if you have a syringe or measuring pitcher at home, they may come in handy when it’s time to put on sunscreen.
“It usually rounds up to 1 to 2 milliliters,” Ilyas says.
Some people feel more comfortable assessing something by weight.
Ilyas says that grams-to-milliliters are a one-to-one conversion, so you’ll want to apply 1 to 2 grams of sunscreen to your face.
That said, she says using this method can be a little tricky.
“You’re basing [it] on the weight of the product you’re using, whether it’s liquid, spray-on, or a lotion or cream, and they can have different weights,” she says.
You might not carry a syringe or measuring spoon in your beach bag, but you can gauge the amount of sunscreen you’re applying to your face by using your hands.
“The fingertip unit is the unit we use as our unit of measurement,” Ilyas explains. “That’s when you look at the first crease in your fingertip right down to the fingertip. That’s generally two pea-size amounts and… the amount of product you need for your face.”
By shot glass
A shot glass is a great tool for measuring sunscreen for your whole body.
When it comes time to apply to the face, you won’t need as much. For your face, Ilyas says you’ll want to use enough sunscreen to fill the bottom of your shot glass.
Put your loose change to good use.
“A nickel is a better unit of measurement than a quarter,” Ilyas says. “Put a nickel-size dollop on your face.”
By SPF rating
Bailey suggests choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
“With less than that, in an SPF 15, you’re blocking about 93 percent of the UVB,” she says. “At SPF 30, you’re blocking 97 percent, and at SPF 50, you’re blocking 98 percent. When you get up to 30, you’re pretty much there.”
But can you layer on double the amount of SPF 15 and call it an SPF 30? It’s a question Ilyas has gotten more than once.
“We can’t really judge it like that,” she says. “You might not apply one as evenly. You can’t guarantee the coverage [adds up to SPF 30].”
She says your best bet is to stick with at least an SPF 30 sunscreen and apply the .04 ounces to your face using whatever tool or visualization works for you.
Consider anything else, like SPF makeup or tinted moisturizer, a bonus.
The way you apply sunscreen can ensure you receive maximum coverage. Bailey and Ilyas agree this is the best way to put sunscreen on your face:
- Apply your skin care products.
- Apply your sunscreen.
- Apply your makeup, if desired.
Run through your skin care routine
Though applying sunscreen to your face is an essential part of your skin care routine, there are a few other products you’ll want to put on first.
“It always goes on after all of your other products, like acne medicine and moisturizers, except makeup,” Bailey says.
“All the other things have to get through your skin. The sunscreen really needs to get on the very outside of your skin. You don’t want the sun to get past that.”
This method is Ilyas’s preferred method of sunscreen application.
“I favor this method because I think it gives nice, even coverage throughout,” she says.
To apply, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
“You take the sunscreen and pour it on the palm of your hand,” Ilyas says. “You take the other fingertip and dip and dot it onto your face, onto your cheeks, forehead and chin and rub it in.”
Don’t forget these areas
According to Ilyas, there are some areas people often forget, and they can become susceptible to sunspots and cancerous cells. Don’t forget your:
- area behind your ears
Finally, apply makeup
Bailey says it’s best to apply any makeup last to avoid smearing, which can make people hesitant to wear sunscreen. She says many mineral makeup products have SPF that can help fight sun damage.
“You can’t quantify it, but the mineral particles bounce off UV rays,” Bailey says.
Try the Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50, EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 Facial Sunscreen, or bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream SPF 30.
Some people find spray sunscreens easier to apply, as they don’t involve as much rubbing as lotions.
“I really like continuous spray sunscreen,” Bailey says. “If you apply it the right way, you can get nice, uniform coverage.”
But she says people often don’t apply it the right way.
“They apply it like hairspray, but the problem with that method is you are probably not getting nice, even coverage,” she says.
What’s more, the American Academy of Dermatology Association advises against inhaling sunscreens or spraying the product near your face or mouth.
Bailey suggests spraying .04 ounces in your hand and applying it to your face to avoid inhaling it.
Ilyas says most people forget the neck and décolletage area, but they often don’t notice until their skin begins to age.
“It’s often one of the first areas people ask about when it comes to anti-aging, because it looks prominent and doesn’t always fade in the winter,” she says. “It’s something we can’t always change, because it’s a structural change where it loses elasticity.”
And our clothes don’t always cover this area in the summer, when we’re more likely to wear collared or V-neck tops.
It’s best to re-think your motions when applying sunscreen.
“Extend your hand down further and make it part of the territory you cover with sunscreen, so it’s always part of your routine,” Ilyas says.
If you’re going to be exposed to the sun throughout the day, you’ll need to apply sunscreen more than once.
“Reapply every 2 hours and after sweating or swimming,” Bailey says. “The reason you have to reapply is that the sunscreen is migrating even if you’re not swimming or sweating. Plus, sunscreen breaks down as it blocks the rays.”
Ilyas suggests reapplying every hour if you’re sweating or swimming. If you’re prone to forgetting, Bailey recommends putting a reminder on your phone.
Besides basic application of sunscreen, Ilyas and Bailey say there are a few more ways you can protect your face from sun damage.
Make application a part of your routine
Ilyas suggests applying sunscreen every morning, so it’s done. Then, reapply before going outside.
Remember: Beach and pool days aren’t the only sun exposure you’ll get.
“People only think about sunscreen at the beach, and they don’t think about day-to-day sun, like going for a walk, walking the dog, or watching kids play a game,” Ilyas says.
It all adds up.
Dress for sun success
Sunscreen isn’t the only thing you can put on to help reduce the risk of sun damage.
“Cover as much as you can with sun-protective clothing,” Bailey says. “Create shade with a hat. Scalps get cancer. In the shade, you’re keeping rays from hitting your sunscreen and breaking down.”
You can shop for sun-protective clothing here.
Find water-resistant sunscreen if you’re going for a dip
If you’re going swimming or doing a sweat-inducing workout, Bailey suggests finding a water-resistant sunscreen that lasts for 80 minutes.
Try the Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 50 or Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50.
Applying sunscreen to your face is a critical step in preventing short and long-term sun damage, including burns and skin cancer.
You’ll want to use about .04 ounces of sunscreen on your face, which equates to the size of a nickel or 1/4 to 1/3 of a teaspoon.
Don’t forget your neck, area behind your ears, temples, or hairline. These areas are often missed, and dermatologists notice they’re a prime spot for early aging and cancerous cells.
Other ways to reduce sun damage include wearing sun-protective clothing, like a hat or shawl.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based writer. In her spare time, you can find her training for marathons and wrangling her son, Peter, and three furbabies.