6 Commonly Neglected Places for Sunscreen and How Doctors Recommend Protecting Them

July 7, 2020

Nicole applying sunscreen to her ear, eyes and lips

As we continue to be inundated with Instagram memes about the importance of wearing sunscreen and countless campaigns warning of skin cancer's horrors, it's hard to believe that there was ever a time when it was normal to lie in the sun, not a care in the world, lathering yourself in tanning oil. In many ways, we're more thoughtful about sun protection now than ever before. But even if it feels like you can't throw a rock without hitting "wear sunscreen" advice-from your doctor, your partner, your mother, your favorite magazine, this article-data shows that sunscreen use among Americans is still slow. According to the 2019 RealSelf Sun Safety Report, only 1 in 10 American adults uses sunscreen daily, and 47% say they never wear sunscreen.

These stats help explain why more people in the United States are still diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. Dermatologists and skin experts believe that one major contribution to these staggering numbers is the all-too-common neglect of certain areas of the body, including those that are most susceptible to sun damage. RealSelf data shows that among those who do wear sunscreen at least one day a week, most apply protection to their face, neck and arms. When it comes to protecting exposed skin from the sun's powerful rays, it's easy to remember your nose or shoulders; but many people, even the savviest of sunscreen users, often forget about some of the other most vulnerable spots.


Chief among these regions is the eyelids, where a shocking 5-10% of all skin cancers occur. "The eyelid is the thinnest skin on the entire body, so it's a very unforgiving part of our face," explains Palo Alto, California, oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Andrea Kossler. According to another study published earlier this year, it's also where we're mostly to skimp on sunscreen. "A lot of people don't put sunscreen all the way up to their eyelid margins because, of course, they don't want to get it in their eyes and have them burn or sting-and I don't think that people ever really suspect they can get skin cancer on their eyelids," says Kossler. "But when these preventable things happen, they can have significant consequences to the function of the eye, the appearance of the eye ... and in the worst case scenarios, patients still, to this day, are losing their eyes."

The surgeon notes that this delicate skin is also typically the first to show signs of aging, such as wrinkles and dark circles. "Often times, we think cancer won't happen to us, but we know that aging is going to happen to all of us," she says. "Of course, we want people to use sunscreen, especially around the eyelids, because of skin cancer, but UVA radiation is also what causes photoaging and wrinkling, so that's another thing we really want to protect against." Kossler, however, fully acknowledges how difficult it can be to find a sunscreen that the sensitive eyelid area can tolerate. "Most types of chemical sunscreen are very thick and sticky-some of them smell bad, and some can leave a white residue on your face," the doctor says. That's why she recommends using a mineral sunscreen, like the Colorescience SPF 50 brush or La Roche-Posay tinted mineral sunscreen for the face, since they're much gentler on the eyes than their chemical counterparts. "I really like the tinted forms of sunscreen because you can see where you've applied it to some degree, so you won't miss a spot," she explains. Other popular mineral-powder sunscreens are Isdin Fotoprotector SunBrush and the new Paula's Choice On-the-Go Shielding Powder. Sunscreen maven Supergoop also recently introduced Shimmershade, the first-ever eye shadow with SPF 30, making it even easier to incorporate sun protection into your daily routine. "It really doesn't matter too much what sunscreen you use though," Kossler says, "as long as you like it and you're compliant in using it."

"Protecting the face requires protecting the whole face," agrees Dr. Heidi Waldorf, a dermatologist in Nanuet, NY. In addition to sunscreen, mechanical protection, such as sunglasses or a hat, is especially key. "The sun is not only bad for skin, but it's also bad for the eyes," says Kossler. "It can accelerate cataracts, it can affect the retina and it can cause growths on the conjunctiva-so sunglasses are great for protecting the eyelid skin, but they're also great for protecting the eye." Dr. Waldorf warns patients that although they may think a visor of baseball hat is protection enough, "full-face protection requires a hat with a three- to four-inch brim, an extra-wide visor [like this one from Coolibar] or the newest thing in sun protection, a Blue Stone Sun Shields face shield."

Scalp and hair

Another commonly neglected part of the body is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the scalp. "The scalp burns more easily than anywhere else because it's at the highest point on your body," says New York City dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. But even as we're told of the painful and dangerous consequences that can come with not protecting our scalp from the sun, many people are reluctant to spray or lather oily sunscreen on their hair. For anyone who's bald, "taking precautions when out in the sun is extremely important," says Dr. Jaliman. She encourages using the same sunscreen you would use on the rest of your body but advises reapplying very frequently. For those who are more follically blessed, she suggests wearing your hair in a bun, top knot or ponytail, which will keep your scalp from being exposed and sunburned. But even so, your scalp and hair are still at risk for UV damage, so sunscreen should still be applied. "If someone doesn't want to slather or spray sunscreen on their scalp, they can use a powder sunscreen," explains Dr. Jaliman. "You can apply directly on the scalp, and you won't have any product buildup in your hair." Like Dr. Kossler, she's a big fan of Colorscience brush-on sunscreen, but there are also scalp-specific products, like Supergoop SPF 45 Poof Part Powder. "There are also mousse formulas you can apply to the scalp, which will lessen the greasiness or oiliness that more traditional sunscreens will leave behind," says Dr. Jaliman. She recommends the Super Power Sunscreen Mousse by Supergoop.

Also at harm here is your actual hair. Sunlight is very drying, and UV rays can make hair look frayed and brittle, so a host of products are now available to both protect the scalp and the hair atop it. "Maintaining healthy hair when working against the effects of aging, chemical treatments and the sun's harmful rays is crucial," says award-winning Scottsdale colorist Lisa Fresa Palacios. "A product containing UV protectant will help protect your color and the integrity of your hair during prolonged sun exposure." Many skin and hair experts alike rave about Coola SPF 30 Organic Scalp & Hair Mist and Bumble and Bumble Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer, Palacios's personal favorite.


"Ears are often missed," says Dr. Jaliman. "Even when people are applying sunscreen to the rest of their face, they forget the ears." The area, however, is among the most at risk for skin cancer, and a 2007 study from the Skin Cancer Foundation listed ears as the third most common location for skin cancers. Ears are notoriously difficult to shield from the sun, and they are therefore frequent targets of sun exposure; plus their thin skin and minimal subcutaneous tissue make them even more likely to develop malignancies.

It's understandably difficult to coat our ears in sunscreen-after all, who wants a bunch of sticky, white liquid seeping into their ear canals? It's also a challenge to get every part of the ear that's actually exposed and not just the lobes. But Dr. Jaliman has a solution. "For areas like the ears, you can use a stick sunscreen, such as Ocean Potion Dab-On Sport Stick," she says. "It's oil-free and leaves a matte finish, and the added bonus is that it's coral-reef friendly-safe for the ocean." Other notable stick options include Shiseido Clear Stick UV Protector, which boasts water- and sweat-combating WetForce technology, and Sun Bum Face Stick, a favorite of West Islip, New York, dermatologist Dr. Kavita Mariwalla. "I don't think it's always that people are forgetting to apply sunscreen to these areas but rather, they're not reapplying," she says. "I'll often ask my patients if they wear sunscreen, and they'll say yes, SPF 50 or SPF 70-but when I ask if they reapply it, they always say no. So I think what people forget is that it doesn't matter what number you put on. If you're not reapplying, what does it matter what you used three hours ago?"


Just last year, more than 121 million women in the U.S. used some sort of lipstick or lipgloss. In the same year, some 2.6 million Americans received injectable fillers, a good chunk of which were in their lips. We're willing to devote countless time, effort and money to getting the perfect pout, yet very few of us even consider using UV-protectant products on our lips. They have extremely thin skin and less melanin, and they are constantly exposed to the sun; therefore, lips not only are easy targets for sunburn but also have an increased risk of developing precancer actinic keratoses, the scaly bumps and patches that can lead to melanoma. Despite this, though, the lips are among the most frequently missed spots when it comes to sunscreen. And even if you do remember to lather some SPF on them, Dr. Jaliman says, "many people lick their lips, so they lick off the sunscreen." But for the best sun protection (and one that won't leave a chemical or metallic taste in your mouth), she and Dr. Mariwalla turn to EltaMD UV Lip Balm, which boasts SPF 31 and contains vitamin E, vitamin C, castor oil and olive oil. "Not only do you get sun protection, but it also deeply hydrates your lips," says Dr. Jaliman. On top of a good lip sunscreen, Dr. Mariwalla urges her patients to use a product like SkinCeuticals Antioxidant Lip Repair every morning and night. "Over time, as you get a lot of sun on your lips, they lose collagen and the plumpness they once had," she says, "so this is a really great way to repair the damage that happens throughout the day."

Hands and feet

And now, to round out the most depressing version of "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," we come to our final entry, the backs of the hands and the tops of the feet. We eat with our hands, we tie shoes with our hands and some of us even talk with our hands, yet "a lot of people don't think to apply sunscreen on their hands, especially if they're doing basic activities," says Dr. Mariwalla. And even when you do initially remember, you still might not be covered. "Some apply sunscreen all over their body and even their hands," says Dr. Jaliman, "but once they are done, they wash their hands before it even gets a chance to penetrate the skin." But our hands can be some of the most telling indicators of age, especially with crepey skin's tendency to wrinkle and easily develop sunspots, so the very best thing we can do for our hands is treat them to a little (or a lotta) SPF. Of course, any old sunscreen can be used on our fine, fingered friends-but in the same way that mineral sunscreens are better for the eyelids, a mineral product might be your best option, especially if one of your hands' other activities is rubbing your eyes. Plus unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral versions don't get into your pores. "They kind of just sit on top of the skin, and they reflect the light," says Dr. Kossler. There are a few sunscreens that are entirely devoted to the hands too, like Supergoop Forever Young Hand Cream. "It's very good, because it's loaded with antioxidants," Dr. Jaliman explains. "It contains omega-7 fatty acids and rich sea-buckthorn fruit, which has been shown to help lighten dark spots." Other hand-specific sunscreens include Jane Iredale HandDrink Hand Cream, Shiseido WrinkleResist24 Protective Hand Revitalizer and, for a more affordable option, Eucerin Daily Hydration Hand Cream with SPF 30.

"A lot of people forget the tops of their feet," Dr. Mariwalla says. "Even if they apply sunscreen once, just because of footwear and stuff, it's easy to wear off." As the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons warns though, skin cancer of the foot is common, often taking the form of an abnormally shaped mole or freckle-and it can even be fatal. That's why it's so crucial to apply sunscreen literally from head to toe. While your little piggies definitely need sun protection, you don't have to search far and wide for sunscreens made for feet; just use the sunscreen you'd typically apply to the rest of your body. Dr. Mariwalla recommends something as simple as Coppertone Sport Sunscreen, which she says absorbs really well into the skin, and Dr. Waldorf is a big fan of EltaMD UV Aero Broad-Spectrum spray.

Tips and reminders for every part of your body

Although it may feel like we've covered every inch of the body with the eyelids, scalp and hair, ears, lips, hands and feet, it's important not to forget the usual suspects in the midst of your newly acquired sun-protection habits. Every skin expert will stress the importance of reapplying sunscreen to every region, but it's equally wise to make a habit of putting on sunscreen every morning, even if you'll just be in the car or walking down the block to the subway station. "Apply sunscreen to the face, neck, décolletage and hands, all at once," advises Dr. Waldorf. "Get used to doing the same stuff to those areas morning and night, and you won't miss them." She also thinks it's always a good idea to carry sunscreen with you at all times, especially since so many are now available in travel-friendly sizes, and invest in a Sunbrella, if you can. Dr. Mariwalla, despite seeing sunburns and skin cancer in her office every day, is continually stunned by how people think about sun exposure. "I always find it interesting to hear what people consider being 'out in the sun,'" she says. "There still seems to be this kind of feeling that you need to wear sunscreen only when you're going to the beach or you're lying out, but you should be wearing and reapplying sunscreen all the time."

One more major misconception about sun protection is that just because an area of skin is covered by clothing, it's not susceptible to sunburn or UV damage. In reality, most clothing provides, at most, the equivalent of SPF 30 (and it's usually closer to SPF 5)-and of course, not all clothing is created equal. The type of fiber, the tightness of the weave, the weight and the color all factor into the amount of protection provided. Dr. Mariwalla says that, for her patients who will be in the sun for extended periods of time, she suggests using Rit Sun Guard, a laundry additive that transforms clothing into UV-protectant gear. She also notes that, although many people are unaware, SPF rash guards (or swim shirts, as they're sometimes known) lose effectiveness over time. "The reason it's sun-protective is the fibers and the tightness of the weave-so just like anything, as the shirt wears thin, it's going to lose its SPF." To avoid this dulling down, buy new rash guards every two years or after two seasons of regular use.



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