Sunscreen Application Mistakes: Are You Missing These Body Areas?

Written by Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on August 5, 2022 No Comments

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Daily application of sunscreen is the best way to prevent the sun’s UV rays from damaging skin. Sun damage not only leads to embarrassing tan lines and sunburn, but causes early aging. Aside from wrinkles, fine lines and sunspots, the real danger of sun damage is skin cancer.

Despite knowing the risks, rates of skin cancer diagnosis in the US continue to rise. One reason might be sunscreen application mistakes. Below are the areas of the body most commonly missed by sunscreen. The next time you apply, pay extra attention to these vulnerable spots.

The Scalp and Hair

When applying sunscreen head to toe, we often neglect the top of the head. But the scalp is vulnerable to burning, no matter how thick our hair. The same is true for the face. If you have a mustache or beard, don’t skip the sunscreen in these areas.

People are understandably reluctant to massage an oily chemical sunscreen into their hair, but there are alternatives. Some spray in products protect not only your scalp, but your hair itself, which is vulnerable to drying or looking brittle. Powdered sunscreens also work well for covering the scalp without oily residue.

If you’re bald, use the same sunscreen you would on the rest of your body and reapply frequently. Those with long hair should still use sunscreen, but can style their hair in a bun on top of their head for added protection. Wearing a hat offers even more coverage for this frequently exposed area.


While hats protect the top of the head, only a wide-brimmed hat covers the ears. This frequently missed spot is among the top 3 locations where skin cancer is found. The ears have thin skin and very little subcutaneous fat, which puts them more at risk when it comes to malignant lesions.

Using a solid sunscreen stick can be an easy way to reach the tops of the ears and behind the ears, versus just the ear lobes. Applying sunscreen to the ears should be part of your daily routine, as the ears are constantly exposed.


The area behind the ears extends to the sides of the neck, which are often overlooked. When applying sunscreen to the neck, be sure to cover the sides and back of the neck, as well as the front, which is generally (but not always) shaded by the jaw.

The neck is a visible area and because of neglect when it comes to sunscreen, it’s often among the first places to show signs of aging. Sun damage leads to wrinkled, sagging neck skin, which can be avoided with more mindful sunscreen application.

Upper Chest

Just below the neck, the upper chest is often exposed. Because this area is not shaded by the chin and presents a slight shelf, it’s constantly exposed to the sun. Protection here is vital not only when wearing a swimsuit, but when wearing a V-neck or scoop neck top, or even a regular crew-neck t-shirt. There’s always some skin showing between the top of your clothing and the base of the neck.


Up to 10% of skin cancer is diagnosed in and around the eyelids. Skin is thinnest around the eyes and vulnerable to damage, including fine lines, wrinkles or dark under-eye circles.

When applying sunscreen to the face, it’s common to skip the eyes for fear of irritation or stinging. Switching from a chemical to mineral sunscreen can help. Mineral formulas are often more gentle and less irritating.

And never skip the sunscreen, but consider the addition of sunglasses for better coverage. Sunglasses not only protect the eyes themselves, but can prevent crow’s feet and the sensitive skin in the corners of the eyes and around the bridge of the nose.


The lips are another often missed part of the face. This includes the area around the mouth such as the upper lip. Despite their darker color, the lips actually have very little melanin, a protective skin pigment. This makes the lips susceptible to aggressive types of skin cancer. While most sunscreens are safe to apply on the lips, the easiest form of protection is lip balm with SPF.


Most people apply sunscreen to their midriff and low back when at the beach, but this area when wearing crop tops around town. City sun can be just as strong as the sun by the ocean or lake, so be sure to protect your skin if your clothing style is revealing.


Many people will apply sunscreen all over their body, then wash their hands once they’re done. But the backside of the hands is often exposed to the sun, especially when driving. This area is among the first to show the signs of aging. To prevent sunspots, wrinkles or thin skin on the hands, remember to apply sunscreen there too.


The tops of feet are generally forgotten, but susceptible to burning if you’re barefoot or wearing sandals. Even when you do remember sunscreen here, reapply often. The straps on your sandals may cause your sunscreen to wear off much faster than expected.

Remember to Reapply

Any time you wear sunscreen, choose an SPF of at least 30 and reapply every 2 hours at a minimum. Applying sunscreen perfectly to every commonly missed spot is of little help if you last applied it 3 hours ago.

Always carry a travel-sized sunscreen and lip balm with UV protection. Sprays or powder-based formulas can make reapplication easy when you’re on the go.

Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD

Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD is a board-certified dermatologist ad fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon at Westlake Dermatology. She then earned her medical degree at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas before completing a residency at The University of Texas at Houston/M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where she served as chief resident in her final year. She then finished training with a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery at Washington University in St. Louis.

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