You may be applying sunscreen wrong

By Ashley Welch

/ CBS News

Consumer Reports: 2018's best sunscreens

With spring slowly blooming, warm weather is just around the corner and that means more time spent outdoors in the sunshine. While applying sunscreen is important year round, it's especially necessary during the months when we spend more time outside.

Now, new research suggests many people may be applying the lotions wrong. The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, finds people often miss certain areas of their face, making them more vulnerable to skin cancer.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool looked at the application habits of people who used moisturizers with SPF and those who used regular sunscreen. Many moisturizers contain the same SPF as traditional sunscreens, but until now there's been a lack of research on how they compare in terms of coverage and protection. SPF, which stands for sun protection factor, measures a sunscreen's ability to block sunburn-causing rays.

The study involved 84 participants who were exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and photographed using a UV-sensitive camera on two separate visits. During the first visit, photos were taken before and after they applied either SPF 30 sunscreen or moisturizer. During the second visit, the study was repeated with the other formulation.

The researchers found people were significantly worse about covering all areas of their face when they applied the SPF moisturizer, as compared to the sunscreen. In particular, many of them missed applying it to their eyelid region.

UV photo after moisturizer with SPF application. Austin McCormick, 2019

"When applying both sunscreen and moisturizer, the area around to eyes is often missed, particularly near the nose," the study authors wrote. "Participants covered a smaller area of the face when using moisturizer compared to sunscreen."

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 3 million people diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of the skin.

The study authors say people should pay particular attention to the eyelid area when applying SPF. They also recommend considering alternative methods of protecting the eyes from the sun's harmful rays, such as UV-filter sunglasses.

They conclude that when spending long periods of time outside, traditional sunscreen is the way to go. "Moisturizer is not as well applied as sunscreen; therefore, if planning prolonged sun exposure we advise sunscreen be used. If using moisturizer we advise one with SPF: any SPF is better than none but it should not be considered the equal of sunscreen," they write.

First published on April 4, 2019 / 4:07 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ashley Welch

Ashley Welch covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com

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