Urgent: There's a More Effective Way to Apply Your SPF

Make sure you're getting the protection you need.

woman with glowing skin in towel

Okikiola Emaleku

If you keep up with the dos and don'ts of skincare, you likely know how essential SPF is to your daily routine. But what if you found out you’ve been applying it wrong all this time? Proper usage is a huge part of measuring whether sunscreen is effective and serving its purpose, and research shows that most people are misunderstanding the correct method. A 2014 study found that overall, consumers only use about 20 to 50% of the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the numbered protection on the bottle.

As I was scrolling through Instagram one day, Okikiola Asher caught my attention with a video she made about why most people aren't getting the advertised SPF protection. According to the expert esthetician, a 1.7-oz. bottle of sunscreen shouldn’t last more than two to three weeks. Surprised? Read on to learn the correct way to apply SPF and the best sunscreens to work into your routine.

Meet the Expert

Okikiola Asher is a certified esthetician and beauty curator, offering facial treatments, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and advanced technologies.

What Are the Benefits of Sunscreen?

Wearing sunscreen has many benefits, some of which may actually surprise you. Here are just a few main ways a good SPF can improve the condition of your skin:

  • Evens skin tone
  • Protects against sunburn
  • Helps with hyperpigmentation
  • Slows and prevents premature aging (wrinkles, dark spots)
  • Prevents skin inflammation
  • Lowers risk of skin cancer

A major reason that sunscreen has such a long list of benefits is that the sun itself can harm our skin in just as many ways. "Sunscreen is the only proven protection against the harmful effects of the UV rays on our skin," Asher explains. "As we all know, sun damage is the [number] one enemy of our skin. To guide against melanoma, photo-aging, and hyperpigmentation, the use of sunscreen is highly essential.” 

According to Asher, those on a skincare budget should dedicate 40% of it to a good sunscreen, as well as give it a prominent place in your daily routine. “Sunscreen application should be the last step of your skincare routine during the day (after your moisturizer)," she explains. "If you are wearing makeup, sunscreen comes before your foundation.”

How to Effectively Apply SPF

The two-finger method is an easy way for you to measure how much sunscreen to apply to your face. To try this technique, simply squeeze the product in two separate lines on your pointer and middle finger. “For maximum coverage, the sunscreen protection factor has to be SPF 30 and above," Asher says. Also, be sure to add product in proportion with the amount of skin that will be exposed to the sun: "I generally advise sunscreen to be applied to the exposed parts of the body. Face, arms, and legs as the case may be, since our face is always in direct contact with the sun."

Unlike some skincare steps, sunscreen usually needs multiple applications a day, especially if you're spending a lot of time outside. “The potency of the sunscreen breaks down on the skin as it interacts with body oils and fluids," Asher explains. "Therefore, reapplication is required every two hours.” 

Make sure the sunscreen you're using has the highest number of protection you're looking for, no matter how many SPF products you're wearing.

When to Apply

No matter the season or weather, ultraviolet rays are at work. Sunscreen should be worn every single day, year-round. “Unless you live in a basement where there is no trace of sunlight, wear sunscreen indoors because sunlight can seep through your windows and blinds,” Asher explains. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30 SPF (or higher) daily.

 Rain or shine, we should maintain implementing SPF in our lifestyle and regimen. Asher shares, “Sunscreen isn’t seasonal; it should be used throughout the year with the same commitment. I know it’s not that easy, especially for those who wear makeup every day. The easiest way to master reapplication is getting a spray sunscreen. I also encourage my clients to set a timer or alarm for reapplication.”

The Takeaway

It's common knowledge that SPF is necessary protection, but we have all been guilty of not using an adequate amount, forgetting to reapply, or skipping days altogether. However, reminders of the benefits of preventive skincare are enough to encourage almost anyone to slather on SPF regularly. Our skin can’t handle unfiltered exposure from the sun, and at-home solutions can’t compare to clinically approved sunscreen. Carrot oil, shea butter, and coconut oil will not provide sufficient sun protection, according to Asher.

The two-finger rule and reapplication every two hours will do wonders for your skin. Afraid the sunscreen won’t absorb properly, leaving a white cast? Here are a few expert-approved sunscreens to add to your routine:

Black Girl Sunscreen Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion for Face and Body SPF 30
Black Girl Sunscreen Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 30 $16.00
Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30
Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30 $68.00
Missha Essence SPF 45
Missha Essence Sun SPF 45 $11.00
Paula's Choice Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50
Paula's Choice Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid Face Moisturizer SPF 50 $35.00
Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Petersen B, Wulf HC. Application of sunscreen--theory and realityPhotodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2014;30(2-3):96-101. doi:10.1111/phpp.12099

  2. Shanbhag S, Nayak A, Narayan R, Nayak UY. Anti-aging and sunscreens: paradigm shift in cosmeticsAdv Pharm Bull. 2019;9(3):348-359. doi:10.15171/apb.2019.042

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs.

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