An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Samantha Bonar | April 11, 2019
People are applying sunscreen to their faces wrong, especially when they use SPF moisturizers, according to new research.
According to the study by researchers at the University of Liverpool, individuals applying traditional sunscreen to their faces miss 11 percent of skin areas, while people slathering on SPF (sun protection factor) moisturizers miss 17 percent. Eyelids were a commonly overlooked area.
However, when asked, most people thought they had done a bang-up job putting on both types of products.
The research, published April 3 in the journal PLoS One, asked 84 participants on two separate occasions to apply either sunscreen or moisturizer containing SPF. Participants were directed to apply the products “as you normally would.” Photos were then taken with a UV camera to detect the spots of skin they had neglected to cover.
A full 14 percent of participants missed the eyelid area using sunscreen, and 21 percent using SPF moisturizer — concerning because this delicate area is prone to skin cancer.
These findings are of particular importance as not only is there a disproportionally high incidence of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers occurring on the head and neck compared with the rest of the body, but also as the eyelid skin displays the highest skin cancer incidence per unit area,” the authors write. The study also states that the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma of the eyelids is increasing, and that the area between the end of the eyelids and the nose is at high risk for basal cell carcinoma, “both in terms of the frequency and the severity of the disease.”
“I can understand why people wouldn’t want to put sunscreen on their eyelids, because when you sweat it can get into your eyes and irritate them,” said Farah Abdulla, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Division of Dermatology, Department of Surgery, at City of Hope. “I don’t usually recommend it. I recommend that people wear sunglasses with ultraviolet protection, because that will also protect their eyes from melanoma.”
Abdulla said cancer of the eyelids is “not that common but it can occur, especially in more light-skinned people. I can think of two patients in the last six months whom I’ve diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma on the upper or lower eyelids.”
The researchers speculate that people cover less of their faces when using moisturizer with SPF than when using sunscreen due to the amount used (people put on less moisturizer because it is sold in smaller containers), as well as the different consistency of the products. They state that better public education is needed so that people know how important it is to protect these vulnerable areas whether they are applying sunscreen or an SPF moisturizer.
“I think that those smaller [SPF moisturizer] products are not exactly cheap, so you want to think that a little goes a long way, but it doesn’t,” Abdulla said. The bigger issues in sunscreen products is that people aren’t applying enough and they don’t understand that they need to reapply every two to three hours when they’re outside. In Southern California, you shouldn’t have a bottle of sunscreen that lasts several months to a year.”
Abdulla said spray sunscreens are particularly problematic because “most of it ends up in the wind. Instead of applying it an inch from the skin like they’re supposed to, people are holding it far away and applying it like a body spray.”
“I think if people can apply sunscreen products to their eyelids and it’s not irritating to them, by all means they should. I think people should also be using UV protective sunglasses because we want them to avoid an ocular melanoma as well,” Abdulla said of the study’s conclusions.
The bigger takeaway from the research, she said, is that individuals need to reevaluate how they are using their SPF products. “Most of us apply it incorrectly. I think very few of us feel like we need to read the instructions on a bottle of sunscreen, but we do. Also, reapply reapply reapply. If you put it on your face and eyelids before you leave for work in the morning, you will need to reapply it again before you drive home in the afternoon.”

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