Most people miss 10% of face when applying sunscreen, increasing skin cancer risk

Researchers from the University of Liverpool found that when applying sunscreen people miss on average 10% of their face.

The research was presented at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference, where the team explained the experiment, which involved 57 participants, male and female, applying sunscreen to their faces as they typically would, with no instruction. Photos were taken of each participant with a UV-sensitive camera before and after application. These were then analysed by a program to determine how successfully the participants had covered their faces.

On average the participants missed 9.5% of their whole face. The most commonly missed areas were the eyelids (13.5%) and the area between the inner corner of the eye and the bridge of the nose (77%).

The researchers concluded that this was probably due to manufacturers’ warnings to keep sunscreen products away from the eyes. They said the research highlights the increased risk of developing a basal cell carcinoma – the most common type of cancer in the UK – if sunscreen isn't properly and thoroughly applied to the face. Over 90% of basal cell carcinomas occur on the head or neck, and 5-10% of all skin cancers occur on the eyelids specifically.

These findings could lead to manufacturers developing formulas that are less sensitive to the eyes in order to encourage consumers to cover the whole face. 

“It’s worrying that people find it so hard to sufficiently apply sunscreen to their face, an area which is particularly at risk of skin cancer due to the amount of sun exposure it receive," commented Dr Kevin Hamill, from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Eye and Vision Science. "Our research shows that simple health messaging can help improve this problem, and we hope that industry groups and public health campaigners can take this on board.”