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What is the Best Time to Apply Sunscreen? A Skin Expert Settles the Debate

Why do you need to wear sunscreen? What is the best time to apply sunscreen? How do you choose one? These are some of the most common sunscreen-related questions asked today.


Vogue Arabia, June 2021. Photo: Kinzy Al Saheal

But with the kind of knowledge available, it is unlikely that your will questions go unanswered. In todays day and age even the average skincare enthusiast knows how important sun protection is. But while the impact of consistent sunscreen application is lost on no one, finding the motivation for consistency is another story altogether.

After all, unlike skin actives, sunscreen does not come with promises of initiating dramatic skin transformation, rather it is an essential, protective, preventative step in your skincare routine. What does a good sunscreen do, you ask? It battles harmful UV rays, and delays any signs of aging, sun spots and pigmentation that may result from prolonged sun exposure. We asked a skin expert to detail the best time to apply sunscreen to make the most of its benefits—here’s what we learned:

What is the best time to apply sunscreen during the day?

“The ideal time to apply sunscreen is 15-30 minutes before stepping out so that it has sufficient time to get absorbed into your skin. The ideal time to include it in your getting-ready routine is after you have applied your serum and moisturizer and before moving on to makeup,” shares Dr Jaishree Sharad, director of Skinfinitii Aesthetic & Laser Clinic, Mumbai. If you aren’t planning on stepping out, don’t expect a hall pass though. “It is a well-known fact that around 70% of UVA rays can penetrate glass. Even if you’re at home, near glass windows in your office or shielded by glass panels in your car, you still need sunscreen,” she affirms.

How often should you reapply sunscreen during the day?

Once you have understood the basics of sunscreen application in the morning, it is time to perfect the reapplication regimen. “No matter how good, efficacious and expensive your sunscreen is, it either starts photo-degrading or gets rubbed off over the course of a few hours—especially if you are outdoors,” cautions the Mumbai-based skin expert. As a rule, she recommends reapplying sunscreen every 2-3 hours. However, this window gets narrowed down to every 40-80 minutes if you’re actively perspiring. “It is advisable to magnify the impact of your sunscreen by wearing full-sleeved and dark-colored clothes, wide-rimmed dark glasses and by carrying an umbrella if you’re going to be out in the sun for an extended period of time 10AM to 4PM,” she adds.

What is the right amount of sunscreen to apply?

As per the USFDA, the standard recommendation for sunscreen application roughly translates to half teaspoon (3ml) of sunscreen for the face and neck, half teaspoon for each arm, two teaspoons on the back and one teaspoon (6ml) for each leg and the chest respectively. If you are looking for an easier unit of measure, she recommends the 2-finger rule for the face. “Simply squeeze out two strips of sunscreen on your index and middle finger from base to tip and apply it all over your face a minimum of 15 minutes before you head outdoors.”

How to get into the habit of wearing sunscreen consistently

  • A good way to incorporate sunscreen in your routine is by associating it with a morning activity you do daily—such as placing a sunscreen tube in your bathroom for ease of application.
  • If you have the tendency to forget, it helps to stash travel-sized tubes in different locations like your purse, car and work desk for a visual reminder.
  • You can also choose to set a reminder on your phone every 2 hours to nudge yourself to reapply sunscreen. A host of apps, such as Reapply, can also dispense handy reminders through the day, while also displaying helpful information about UV levels in your location.

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