By now, most people understand the importance of sunscreen. It’s no longer seen as something to be applied exclusively at sunny pool parties or backyard barbecues, but instead a critical part of a person’s daily skincare routine.
And although those who lather up on SPF before commuting to work each morning are certainly making great strides in long-term skin protection, Dr. Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Ava MD Dermatology and Skin Five Medical Spa, says there’s a good chance they’re still missing some crucial spots.
“People overlook key areas that matter all the time,” Shamban tells Mental Floss. “The scalp, eyelids or under-eyes, the nape of the neck, the top of feet, and ears—or any place they can’t reach on their back—are all on the top of the ‘miss list.’ Even the keratin protein of our hair is damaged by the sun.”
Often neglected because they seem like minor needs compared to arms and legs, these spots are actually the most susceptible to damage because, according to Shamban, they’re “always in direct contact” with the sun. Skipping the right sunscreen in these areas could lead to hyperpigmentation and discoloration, burning, and actinic lentigines (which are small brown spots on the skin).
“Some areas may present a bit differently based on the structure in and under the epidermal layers,” Shamban says, noting that it all depends on your skin’s vessels, sebaceous network, and pores, among other factors. “Some areas will become itchy or experience pain ... and early signs of lines and wrinkles, or laxity.”
What Happens If You Skip Sunscreen On Your…
- Neck: Fine lines and “crepey” and/or draping skin could get worse if you forget to use sunscreen on your neck, Shamban says. She also notes that “necklace lines,” the ring-like lines that cross over and up the neck and are produced by a decrease in collagen and elastin production in the skin, become more prominent.
- Ears: Significant burning here can lead to flaking and crusting, and in extreme cases, Shamban warns, non-healing wounds that could be precursors to serious skin cancers.
- Tops of feet, hands, and fingers: Because these parts of the body have “minimal fat” and “lots of bone and vessels,” Shamban says you’re at greater risk of developing prematurely visible veins if you skip the sunscreen; skin might also lose elasticity.
- Eyelids: “Lids can lose elasticity and become droopy,” she says, because the skin is so thin.
- Lips: With long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, the skin covering your lips can be at risk for solar cheilitis, which causes discoloration, cracking, and extreme dryness.
- Scalp and hair: “The scalp is an often neglected area that takes the most direct hit daily [from the sun],” Shamban says. “It can become scaly, dry, and blister … [or] flake. It’s easy to develop precancerous actinic keratosis [a skin disorder that causes rough, scaly patches] that is often harder to spot.” As for hair? “It can lighten or fade in color, and become dehydrated, damaged, dry, brittle, and continue to break.”
The Best Sunscreens For Tricky Areas of Skin
While the scalp is certainly a priority, Shamban reminds her patients that there’s no hierarchy when it comes to sun protection. “Skin is skin,” she says. “It is all important and vital.”
According to Shamban, sunburns can form after just 20 minutes of direct sun exposure. In addition to being uncomfortable, she notes that it’s actually your skin’s “defense mechanism,” or its way of trying to heal after sun damage. She maintains that using sunscreen consistently is crucial—moreso than picking the “right” brand of sunscreen—and even if you forget a day, it’s OK. Just remember to “dive back in ... and start again.”
And although any broad spectrum sunscreen will work on any part of the skin, several products do make it a little easier to apply SPF to hair, lips, and other tricky areas.
1. Best Facial Sunscreen: ISDIN Eryfotona Ageless Ultralight Mineral Tinted Sunscreen SPF 50; From $56
According to Shamban, this is a great facial sunscreen that works for eyelids, under-eyes, and ears as well. As it’s intended for all-day use, it could be an ideal solution for people who often don’t use enough sunscreen on their faces or who may think, as Shamban notes, that their “makeup with some SPF will always suffice.”
2. Best Sunscreen for Hair and Scalps: Supergoop! Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35; $34
A broad spectrum, 100-percent mineral sunscreen made specifically for the hair and scalp has a lot to prove—namely, it can’t be too greasy or too noticeable. This virtually undetectable powder feels just like a dry shampoo, but with the added benefit of UV protection.
3. Best Sunscreen for Backs and Necks: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Cooling Water Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30; $38
This lightweight sunscreen transforms into a refreshing, water-like lotion upon contact with skin. “[It] blends well for large areas of the body,” Shamban says, like the back or neck. You could also use this on the tops of your feet, hands, and fingers.
4. Best Sunscreen for Lips: EltaMD UV Lip Balm Sunscreen, SPF 36; $14
This water-resistant formula hydrates and protects lips, and despite containing zinc oxide (which often leaves behind a white coating), it goes on smooth and clear, not cakey or white.
Buy it: Amazon