Protecting Your Skin

How Much Sunscreen Is Enough?

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

The message finally seems to be spreading that overexposure to the sun is not good for our skin. Not only is it the leading cause of skin cancer, but it also causes premature skin aging, wrinkles, discoloration and roughened skin texture. So, most of us get that we need to use sunscreen, but somehow we are still damaging our skin.

According to Henry Ford dermatologist Elizabeth Gordon Spratt, M.D., “Most people use less than half the effective amount of sunscreen, do not reapply it often enough or use expired products. Even those who do it right may only think of using sunscreen in the summer, and only when the sun is shining brightly.”

In fact, our skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful rays every time we go outdoors and while we are riding or driving in a car. Sunscreen is necessary all year around, even on cold or overcast days.

“Applying a sunscreen every morning is a good daily practice,” says Dr. Gordon Spratt. And, she offers the below tips for proper sunscreen use to maintain healthy, younger-looking skin.

  • Think 30 or higher. Check the label on your sunscreen. A good choice has an SPF of at least 30, provides broad-spectrum coverage, is water resistant and hasn’t expired. SPF 30 will block about 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays.
  • Don’t be stingy. To safely cover your face and body, you will need at least one ounce (two tablespoons) of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass or the palm of your hand. For the face alone, use a quarter teaspoon of sunscreen. Most people don’t use nearly enough sunscreen and therefore don’t get the recommended protection, resulting in skin damage.
  • Apply directly. Sunscreen should be the first layer applied to your face, followed by moisturizer and then makeup. There are great new formulations of sunscreen that feel great on the skin and even act as a primer for your makeup. For re-application throughout the day, after applying your makeup, consider a loose-powder mineral sunscreen that can be put seamlessly on top of makeup.
  • Use the 15-minute rule. It takes about 15 minutes for chemical sunscreens to become effective. Be sure to apply before you go into the sun, if you’re using a chemical sunscreen.
  • Cover your bases. Apply sunscreen to all of your bare skin, including your face, neck, ears, hands, back, back of the legs and the top of your feet. If your hair is very short or thin, apply to your scalp, or wear a hat. There are now sunscreen powders designed to keep the scalp and part of your hair safe. Don’t forget lip balm with an SPF. It is best to put sunscreen on the whole body before getting dressed (as you would lotion) so you don’t miss any spots!
  • Start all over. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more often if you are sweating, and after every swim.

People who burn despite using sunscreen are most likely missing one of the above factors. You can further protect your skin by avoiding exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (or whenever your shadow is shorter than you are), taking advantage of the shade, and wearing UV-protective clothing with a UPF rating of 25 or higher and a wide-brimmed hat.

“Some think that a tan looks healthy, but tanned skin is actually damaged skin,” Dr. Gordon Spratt warns. “If you can’t give up the golden glow, stick to sunless tanners.”

If you become sunburned over a large area of your body and blisters, fever, chills, pain or nausea result, seek medical treatment.

Related Topic: Healthy Travel: How to Avoid Illness on the Road

To schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a dermatologist, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). If you’re in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, visit henryfordallegiance.com or call 1-888-862-DOCS.


Elizabeth Gordon Spratt, M.D.,is a board-certified dermatologist, experienced in general and medical dermatology and surgical procedures. She cares for patients at Henry Ford Allegiance Dermatology in Jackson.