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You've Probably Been Applying Sunscreen Wrong Your Entire Life

You need to apply it half an hour before you go out AND as soon as you're in the sun, if you'll be out long enough to risk burning.

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You might not be applying as much sunscreen as you should.

Anthony Devlin / PA WIRE

Today the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) released new guidelines on the risks and benefits of exposure to sunlight.

We need exposure to sunlight to make Vitamin D, but getting too much sun increases the risk of skin cancer. The guidance warns that too much time spent in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer, and that there is no safe way to get a (real) tan.

Most people know they should be reapplying sunscreen regularly if they're out in the sun for a long time.

The new NICE guidelines say sunscreen should be "reapplied liberally, frequently and according to the manufacturer's instructions". You also need to make sure you reapply it after being in the water – even if it claims to be water-resistant – and after towel-drying or sweating, or if it might have rubbed off.

And you probably know that you should be using more than you actually do.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

If you don't apply enough, you will only be getting a fraction of the SPF on the bottle. Apparently the average amount needed to cover an adult and achieve the SPF on the bottle is "35 ml or 6 to 8 teaspoons of lotion".

But there's a bit in the guidelines that you might not have been aware of.

According to NICE:

If someone plans to be out in the sun long enough to risk burning, sunscreen needs to be applied twice to exposed areas of skin: half an hour before, and again around the time they go out in the sun. This includes the face, neck and ears (and head if someone has thinning or no hair), but a wide-brimmed hat is better.


Yes, you read that right – you should be applying sunscreen twice. Before you go out, and then again as soon as you're in the sun.

Myung Jung Kim / EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

And of course, reapplying it if it rubs off or if you go in the water etc.

*buys stocks in sunscreen manufacturers*

The guidelines also clear up some common misconceptions about sun exposure.

They say that even if it's cool or cloudy, it's possible to get sunburnt at midday in the summer. And a "base tan" protecting you from harm is untrue – the skin damage resulting from any tan you have outweighs the slight protective effect.

"A suntan is a sign that skin has already been damaged," according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. "And tanned skin can continue to be damaged when exposed to UV rays."

There's even more sad news for everyone living in the UK.

The guidelines state that it's not possible to get enough Vitamin D from sunlight in the UK between the months of October and March. That's six months, aka HALF OF THE ENTIRE YEAR.