Here's a sobering fact: skin cancer is the number-one type of cancer in the United States. With summer in full swing, it’s more important than ever to have sun safety top of mind. We’ve got you covered when it comes to all things sun and skin here at Byrdie HQ, whether you’re curious about the best SPF products on the market or what it’s really like to get a skin check.
Summer is here, promising beach days, backyard BBQs, rooftop happy hours, and weekend getaways. In other words, plenty of occasions to make the most of the sunshine—but just as many chances to put your skin in harm's way. We could speak endlessly about the importance of protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, but even the most diligent sunscreen appliers could be making some mistakes that leave their skin unprotected.
Proper sunscreen application goes beyond your face and body and there are places that need sun protection that you'd never expect. These neglected regions aren't spots we necessarily consider until it's too late and we're left with burns and damaged skin. To ensure we're ready to take on summer while keeping our skin healthy and protected, we had skin experts reveal all the places we overlook when considering sun protection—from head to toe.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Lian Mack, MD, is a board certified dermatologist.
- Dr. Corey L. Hartman, MD, is a board certified dermatologist and the Founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.
- Dr. Kan Cao, phD, is a skin expert with a phD in Biology. She is the founder of skincare brand Bluelene.
- Leila Aalam is an esthetician and founder of Beuti Skincare.
- Sarah Akram is a celebrity facialist and esthetician.
"We often spend most of our time protecting the skin on our face and body and forget about the most vulnerable area—our head and scalp," observes Dr. Kan Cao, scientist and founder of Bluelene. Board certified dermatologist Lian Mack, MD, echoes this. "People fail to remember this location and are not attracted to the idea of putting a thick cream or sticky spray on through their hair to get to the skin of the scalp," he says. "Products like Jane Iredale's Powder-Me SPF Dry Sunscreen offer a cosmetically elegant, effective delivery system to prevent sunburn."
Hair is not always going to be the best protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays, warns Sarah Akram, a master facialist and esthetician. "Make sure to wear a hat or remember to apply sunscreen to your scalp," she advises. "There are spray or mist sunscreens designed for scalp and hair protection." One of our favorites is this mineral part and scalp powder.
Even though we're usually good about applying sunscreen to our faces, the ears are an extension we often miss. "The ears are a common area where skin cancer is found," warns Leila Aalam, esthetician and founder of Beuti Skincare. "When you apply your daily SPF to your face, also add to your outer earlobes."
Hartman suggests reapplying sunscreen to your earlobes “every two hours that you are exposed to intense sunlight, and especially between peak hours of 10am and 2pm.”
Cao adds that you should opt to wear a hat if you are planning on being outside for an extended period of time.
We know that the neck is one of the first places to show signs of aging, so protecting our neck and décolletage from the sun is crucial. "When you apply your daily SPF in the morning to your face, make sure to extend it to your neck and decolletage," advises Cao.
Yes, eyelids. "Eyes can be a tricky area because most sunscreens can be irritating to the eyes," says Akram. "My recommendation is to remember to grab a pair of sunglasses and a hat."
If you do plan on going the sunscreen route near the eyes, Hartman has some tips. "Sunscreen should be applied to eyelids after all skincare is applied and as a final shield against UV light,” he says. “Choose a physical sunscreen with few active ingredients as eyelid skin tends to be more sensitive."
According to both Mack and Akram, lips often get skipped when it comes to sun protection. "A good lip balm that contains SPF will protect your lips," says Akram.
Be sure to carry an SPF-spiked lip balm when you're outdoors and reapply as necessary—just as you would with sunscreen. "Keeping your lips moist will help to protect from sun damage," Akram adds.
"Within my practice, patients consistently ask me how to reverse signs of aging on their hands," admits Mack. "Most patients are protecting their face with an SPF, but they neglect the top of the hands."
How often do you apply sunscreen and end up washing your hands shortly after to get rid of the greasy feeling? It's something many of us are guilty of, but it's not doing any favors for our hands. "Sunspots or age spots on your hands are an area where we can see some of the first signs of aging," explains Akram. "When you wash your hands, you are removing any product or protection. It is important to apply sunscreen on the palms and back of your hands."
"During the summer months, we often cover most of our body but forget the edges around our buttocks," says Aalam. "Swimsuits are getting smaller and smaller, so make sure to apply sunscreen before you head to the beach." She advises applying sunscreen on your entire butt to ensure coverage under your swimsuit.
Just as knees are an easy body part to miss when we shave our legs, they're an easy body part to miss when we're applying sunscreen. “Knees are as susceptible as other areas for being sunburned,” says Hartman. “However, sunscreen applied to the knees may be more easily rubbed off inadvertently as one moves around on a blanket at the beach.”
Cao says to make sure to wear SPF and apply regularly, especially if you are going to be in the water. "Of course, another option is to wear a long skirt or coverup," she says.
Toes and Feet
"This is another common area to find skin cancer," reveals Aalam. "Yet again, we often are wearing sandals during the summer months so we automatically think they are covered and protected—which is not true." To be safe, Aalam recommends applying sunscreen to the top and bottom of your feet and on your toes.
Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancer facts & statistics. Updated January, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. The best skin care ingredients for your neck. Updated September 27, 2021.