‘Slapdash’ sun cream application means we’re getting less than half the coverage we need, according to scientists - try these 10 ways to get full protection

How to get the best protection from your suntan lotion

Child applying sun cream to their face
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Scientists reveal the poor application of sun cream means we really aren't getting the protection we need - here's the best ways to get the most from your suntan lotion.

With the weather finally looking a little better, it's time to start considering the best sun cream for you and your family.What works on your body isn't always good all over, and the best sunscreen for your face might need different properties depending on your skin type. You'll also need to be aware of whether your SPF lotion has gone out of date.

However, you can have all the information you need about sun cream, but it's rendered fairly ineffective if you don't apply it properly - and scientists are saying we're doing just that. Research undertaken by King's College London suggests poor application of our suntan lotion means we're only getting around half the protection from it that we need. To make sure you're getting the full coverage to stay safe, try these tips for the best application. 

10 ways to get full sun cream coverage

  • Use the correct amount. You need a golf ball sized amount of sun cream to cover your body effectively. Most people aren't aware you need this much.
  • Half a teaspoon. Your face, ears, neck and each arm need half a teaspoon of sun cream each, to get full coverage. 
  • A whole teaspoon. Your back, chest/abdomen and each leg require a full teaspoon each, for full coverage.
  • Make sure it's smooth. If you don't spread sun cream smoothly, you get a much thinner layer of coverage and reduced protection.
  • The two-minute rule. You should spend at least two minutes on each body part, making sure sun cream has been applied smoothly and to all areas of skin.
  • Use a higher SPF than you need. If you apply a 50+ and apply it 'typically,' you're probably going to get your SPF of 15 or 20.
  • Don't miss places out. People commonly forget to apply sun cream to their ears, around their clothing lines/hems, on their hands, and between their toes.
  • Reapply every two hours. If you're going out in the sun for a prolonged period, reapply your sun cream in the same methodical way every two hours.    
  • Consider other factors. People forget that swimming, sweating and towelling off can all remove sun cream and reduce its effectiveness. Take these into consideration when you're looking at how often to reapply. 
  • Apply before you leave the house. your sun cream should be applied 15 - 30 minutes before you go outside - this allows the chemical filters to fully absorb into your skin.

Report author, Professor Antony Young from King’s College London said "There is no dispute that sunscreen provides important protection against the cancer causing impact of the sun’s ultra violet rays. However, what this research shows is that the way sunscreen is applied plays an important role in determining how effective it is."

Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists adds "This research demonstrates why it’s so important to choose an SPF of 30 or more. In theory, an SPF of 15 should be sufficient, but we know that in real-world situations, we need the additional protection offered by a higher SPF.

It also shows why we shouldn’t rely on sunscreen alone for sun protection, but we should also use clothing and shade. An extra consideration is that when we apply sunscreen, we are prone to missing patches of skin, as well as applying it too thinly."

How to get sunscreen out of clothes is a common question when the weather gets warmer, and you might need sunburn remedies if you don't apply suntan lotion properly. If you do expose yourself to the sun without protection, you could open yourself up to skin pigmentation.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.