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There’s always that one pesky area of skin you miss when it comes to applying sunscreen in the summer. And unfortunately, by the time you notice, your skin might be beyond rescue and you’re left to deal with the aftermath: a stinging, peeling sunburn.
Even the most thorough sunscreen appliers may end up with a weird or unexpected burn. Usually it’s not because someone doesn’t care about sunscreen, but rather because there are certain areas of the body that are easily overlooked and forgotten.
Like any skin that gets sunburned, these areas are at-risk for skin damage or developing abnormal cells later on.
“I’ve definitely seen a few locations in the development of skin cancer that can be due to being missed by sunscreen application daily, but also areas that tend to have sunscreen rub off easily and not be as effective where people forget to reapply,” says Michael Kassardjian, DO, board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles.
“In general with sunscreens, people should look to use broad-spectrum sunscreens of SPF 30 or higher daily, and the key is to reapply every two hours,” he adds.
While the goal is to ultimately prevent a painful sunburn from happening, thinking more long-term, the goal of proper sun protection is to prevent skin cancer. Here are some of the most common areas that we miss and how to protect them:
“People may be good with applying sunscreen to their face, but an area that often can be neglected is the neck,” says Dr. Kassardjian.
While the entire neck needs SPF — including the front part that’s usually in the shadow of your jaw — the sides and back of the neck are particularly vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays.
He notes that so much money is spent annually on firming creams, injections, and lasers in this area, which are a response to too much sun exposure and skin aging.
“I’ve surgically removed many basal cell, squamous cell, and even melanoma skin cancers from the sides and the back of the neck, which could be prevented with the regular use of sunscreen,” says Dr. Kassardjian.
“The sides of the neck, especially in cities like Los Angeles (left side more than the right typically) can be affected over the years from driving, as this is a common location that the sun hits day in and day out.”
To prevent your neck from being burnt, start with sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and ideally one that’s waterproof if you plan to sweat or swim.
“Apply your sunscreen to the neck starting in the front, then to the sides of the neck, and all the way to the hairline in the back. This will ensure that you’re covering the area well,” says Dr. Kassardjian.
Additionally, you can wear a wide-brimmed hat or one with a neck-flap for extra protection in the area.
We’re talking about the area of the chest right above where your T-shirt stops covering you, right beneath the start of your neck — or where your collarbone is located.
“For my friends and patients who are runners, this is an area that seems to be more frequently overlooked,” says Rajani Katta, MD, board-certified dermatologist and author of “Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet.”
“While they’ll usually remember to do a great job with sunblock on their face, it can be harder to remember to protect your neck and upper chest. Even though you may be wearing a T-shirt, that still leaves the upper part of your chest exposed,” says Dr. Katta. This is especially true if you’re wearing a V-neck or scoop neck tee.
For this area, you need to either slather on an extra layer of sunblock or wear a high-necked sun protective shirt, says Dr. Katta. You can even get shirts that have SPF (less sun penetrates the fabric) which offer additional protection.
“Lips are often an area that are missed when protecting from the sun, and are chronically exposed to UV rays,” says Dr. Kassardjian. If you’ve ever burned your lips before, you know it’s a painful, annoying recovery.
“Unfortunately, we do see quite a bit of skin cancers on the lip, and these skin cancers can become more aggressive [and] require surgical treatment, so prevention is key,” says Dr. Kassardjian.
Fortunately, there are many sunscreens or lip balms that are made specifically to go on the lips — and some of them taste good, too!
Dr. Kassardjian suggests using a lip sunscreen that contains zinc oxide. Some of his favorites are:
- EltaMD Skincare lip balm
- Neutrogena lip moisturizer with sunscreen
- Colorescience lip shine
- La Roche-Posay USA Anthelios lipstick
Tip: If you have a rough, scaly spot or a sore that’s not improving with typical lip products, it’s important to get it checked out.
“The tops of the hands are especially susceptible to long-term UV damage and risk of skin cancer and premature aging due to driving,” says Dr. Kassardjian. Even on a cloudy day, it’s important to protect your hands, especially while doing activities outside.
Protecting your hands can prevent damaging sunburns and also prevent developing signs of premature aging like sun spots and freckles.
“Before heading out, your regular daily sunscreen can be applied to the back of the hands, most importantly to rub it in well throughout for a good base protection. This base application of sunscreen in the morning will help cover all the areas well before you start your day, but the reapplication is where other recommendations come in for easier use,” says Dr. Kassardjian.
Since you’re constantly using your hands throughout the day, reapplication of sunscreen on this area is key, as it can easily rub or wash off. For this reason, Dr. Kassardjian recommends a stick or powder sunscreen.
“Whatever people will be more likely to use (like the feel, easy to carry, etc.), I would recommend. I particularly like the stick sunscreens. The stick application can make it easier, especially for reapplication as you can neatly reapply on the tops of your hands before heading back outside, and they are easy to carry around.”
If you use powder sunscreen, this should be applied after the initial base sunscreen. “Powder sunscreens are another option that can help people remember to reapply, especially if those powders are being used on the face,” Dr. Kassardjian says. Colorescience is his go-to recommendation for a powder-based sunscreen.
“The powder is very easy to reapply on the tops of the hands and goes on dry. The reason it would not be my first choice to apply on the backs of the hands first thing… is due to the fact that with powders you may be more susceptible to miss some areas when applying it, so my personal preference is it’s great for reapplication.”
A popular accidental burn spot, the tops of your ears are especially vulnerable.
“This is an area that we unfortunately see many skin cancers develop and is an area that is forgotten when applying sunscreen,” says Dr. Kassardjian. “Not only the ears themselves, but behind the ears as well, especially behind that left ear for those people that are commuting long distances daily (as mentioned with the neck) as they will have constant exposure to those UV rays.”
And many people may not think to add extra protection if they wear a baseball cap, which doesn’t cover and protect the ears like a wide-brimmed hat does.
You should always put sunscreen on the tops of your ears, but adding a hat means extra protection — and for your face, too.
“It’s really important to find a wide-brimmed hat that you like and will wear, whether that’s a fishing hat, a sun hat, a cowboy hat, or another option,” says Dr. Katta. “If you’re just not going to wear a hat, then you need to be extra generous with your sunblock on the tops of the ears.”
You’ve either been this person or seen this person with toasted feet. It can make wearing any kind of shoe painful, or even impossible.
Whether you’re relaxing on the beach or spending the day out on a boat or hiking trail, it may be easy to forget to protect the tops of your feet — especially if you already have on flip flops or other sandals. But this area of skin is important to protect just like any other part of the body.
“If you’re wearing sandals, the rule is sunblock first, sandals second,” says Dr. Katta.
Try using a thicker, waterproof sunscreen especially if you’ll be getting your feet wet or sandy. And if you’re in and out of the water, make sure you reapply after every dip or every 2 hours.
If your crop top leaves your midriff exposed to the sun, it can get sizzled too.
“With the current fashion trends, I’m seeing more women wearing midriff-baring tops in the summer,” says Dr. Katta. “While my patients are generally pretty careful when they’re wearing bikinis at the beach, they may not think about their exposed midriff when they’re on a city street.”
“This is an area where sunblock is key,” says Dr. Katta. Use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and reapply every 2 hours if you’re outside.
Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, weight loss, and fitness. She’s based in Pennsylvania and loves antiques, cilantro, and American history.