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How Often Should You Reapply Sunscreen?

By June 2, 2011

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Where I live, this weekend was the first weekend of sun.  The first weekend of pools open and all kinds of outdoor play.  It truly felt like summer, and there was enough shorts and tank tops to prove it.

When I checked out at the grocery store, my checker had a horrendous sunburn.  I had a big party to go to last night that had a bunch of teens in attendance and there were so many people there with a sunburn, I couldn't believe it. Red, peeling skin galore. I took some time to talk to some of them in passing and they were so surprised at what I had to say.

A few of them said that they usually apply sunscreen twice when they are outside for the entire day. (Hence the sunburn.)  Here's the deal, most people have good intentions when it comes to protecting their skin, but they just don't know how often to apply.  And when I told these girls what's recommended, they were shocked.

If you look at your sunscreen bottle, chances are good it says what mine says: this will provide protection for 80 minutes when in the water or sweating.  (My words - not theirs.)  So, that means if you're outside with a bit of  a sweat because it's hot or you're in the pool (or your kids are in the sprinkler, water balloons, etc...) you have to apply every 1 1/2 hrs, period.  It's just not optional.

There's a calculation that you can use that shows you how long your sunscreen should protect your skin in ideal settings, and it's going to show that I'm off in my advice.  But the reality is that we're not typically in ideal settings.  We're walking the dog, working in the garden, playing with the kids, bike-riding, etc...  We're usually not adhering to the warnings to stay indoors in the middle of the day to avoid the strongest UV rays.  Ideal settings just aren't where we typically spend our times outdoors.

I advised the girls to apply every 1 1/2 hours and they said they usually applied ever 4 hours.  Vast difference.  Since I've been applying sunscreen every 1 1/2 hours on myself and my kids, I have avoided a single a sunburn for more than 10 years, and my kids have never in their lives had one.

And let's not forget, all it takes is one blistering sunburn will double your chance for melanoma in your lifetime.  As many blistering sunburns as I had in my youth, I'd love for you to avoid them at all cost.


June 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm
(1) Leslie says:

love that you covered this in your blog! One question, does it need to be a blistering sunburn or just a sunburn?

June 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm
(2) skincare says:

Blistering, Leslie! Good question! Do your best to avoid them at all cost.

June 10, 2011 at 7:15 am
(3) Wedding Directory says:

this is one of the most incredible blogs Ive read in a very long time. The amount of information in here is stunning, like you practically wrote the book on the subject. Your blog is great for anyone who wants to understand this subject more. Great stuff; please keep it up
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May 17, 2013 at 3:50 pm
(4) Bill says:

Hi Jen,

your suggestion to reapply every 1.5 hours is a really good one. The prupose of reapplying often, is to insure that you have a proper amount of sunscreen on your skin. Reapplying won’t necessarily prevent you from getting a sun burn. Think of it this way: imagine that on a given hot and sunny day, you would burn in 2 hours. In 1 hour and 55 minutes, you decide to reapply and head back out into the sun. At this point, enough solar radiation has already passed through your sunscreen to almost burn you. Even with a re-application, you will burn soon. Maybe not in five minutes, but very soon. On a given day, even with sunscreen and even after reapplying often, a point will come when you burn. The trick is to limit your exposure to avoid that burining point! Looks like you do that well…Thanks

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