The deadly spot we're missing when we apply sunscreen

 Photo: Getty Images

With the highest skin cancer rates in the world, many Australians are fastidious when it comes to whipping out the sunscreen and slathering it on. However, it turns out that there's one place on the body we're not so great at applying sunscreen to, and the ramifications can be deadly.

With most skin cancer occurring on the face, it's no surprise that scientists have discovered that most people miss about 10 percent of the surface area of their faces when applying sunscreen, and in and around the eyelids are the most neglected.

Research was presented by the University of Liverpool at the British Association of Dermatologists' Annual Conference in the UK that identified the deadly mistake most people are making when they apply sunscreen to their faces. The paper stated that "More than 90 per cent of basal cell carcinomas, the most common cancer in the UK, occur on the head or neck, and between 5 and 10 per cent of all skin cancers occur on the eyelids specifically."

The researchers conducted the experiment by asking participants to apply sunscreen to their faces as they normally would. No special instructions were given. Ultraviolet light was then used to identify which parts of the face were well covered with the lotion, and which weren't. 

"On average people missed 9.5 per cent of the whole face, with the most commonly missed areas being the eyelids, where on average 13.5 per cent of the eyelid was missed."

There was another area of concern; "...the area between the inner corner of the eye and the bridge of the nose which was missed by 77 per cent of participants."

The photo on the right shows the eyelids have been missed during sunscreen application. Photo: University of Liverpool

They were then given information about the incidence of eyelid cancer and asked to reapply. The results improved only slightly, with "7.7 per cent of the face left unprotected".

Speaking to Time, co-author Kevin Hamill, an Eye and Vision Science lecturer said, "Other studies have shown that most people apply less than half of the amount of sunscreen they need to achieve the protection that their product advertises," adding that people thought they were applying adequate coverage.


With warnings given on sunscreen packaging about avoiding the eye area, it's a problem researchers are keen to spread the word about, and it's one of the most convincing arguments for wearing sunglasses. While many of us wear them to protect the eyeball and its internal structures, sunglasses also protect around the eye.

Hamill's sun protection recommendations:

1. Choose a high SPF water-resistant facial sunscreen

2. Apply more sunscreen to the face than you think is adequate, paying particular attention to the eye area without getting it in the eye

3. Wear sunglasses, protective clothing/swim wear and a hat, and spend time in the shade

4. Reapply sunscreen often, especially to the face and neck