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 • Skincare  • Skincare Guides  • This is How Long You Should Actually be Leaving your SPF Before it’s Effective

This is How Long You Should Actually be Leaving your SPF Before it’s Effective

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Main image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy

Whether you’re heading off for some winter sun or reading this in the height of summer, you’ll be in the market for a new sunscreen and perhaps a few tips to go with it.

As if you need reminding about the importance of wearing sunscreen…. But, hey, just in case, a broad-spectrum SPF will keep your skin protected from harmful UV rays. If don’t wear sunscreen, the sun can burn the skin, causing lifelong damage and/or trigger premature ageing. 

So how should you approach applying sunscreen so that it can work to its full potential? How long does it actually take to absorb into the skin? And what are the waiting times when it comes to sun protection?

Here, aesetheticians Ian Michael Crumm and Amber Shal provide all the answers and I share my own experiences with applying SPF too. *Sings* Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo…


How long does it take for sunscreen to absorb?

Crumm says it varies, “depending on the formulation and ingredients. Generally, most sunscreens take about 15 to 30 minutes to be fully absorbed into the skin before they start providing adequate protection against UV rays.”

Studies confirm this 15 to 30 minute window, meaning that it’s best to wait the full 30 minutes before going into the sun to make sure you’re getting its full SPF protection.


Image – Luisvelasco/Stocksy


Why do you have to wait before going out into the sun?

“The waiting time after applying sunscreen is crucial because it allows the product to form a protective barrier on the skin’s surface,” explains Crumm. ‘During this time, the sunscreen ingredients need to bind to the skin to provide effective protection against UV radiation.”

The same applies before entering water and if you don’t wait, “[sunscreen] may not be fully absorbed and its effectiveness could be compromised,” he adds. 

I like to apply mine straight after my morning shower. So, I get up, shower straight away then apply my sunscreen, before going downstairs for breakfast and doing everything I need to do before heading outside. This gives my SPF ample time to start working and not waste time waiting for it to sink in. 


How often should you reapply?

Every two hours, according to Crumm, or more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating a lot.


My 3 need-to-know sunscreen tips

  • Always apply more than you think. In my years as a beauty journalist the one thing I have been constantly reminded about is to really slather your skin in sunscreen. If you’re stingy with it, you could easily miss patches of skin which are then in danger of burning or blistering in the heat. This is one area in beauty where you don’t need to worry about overdoing it.
  • Apply it everywhere. Yes, even on places like the backs of your ears, your neck, your eyelids, and your feet (because has anyone ever experienced the sheer pain of sunburnt feet? Asking for a friend.) These are the areas that get easily missed and therefore burn. I once burnt my lips because I didn’t apply enough SPF lip balm and let me tell you, I didn’t look pretty.
  • Creams are better than sprays, in my opinion. Ok, sprays are super convenient and less messy. However, you need to spritz a ton of it on to really cover every part of your body. And this means you basically end up using a whole can before the end of the first day of your holiday. It’s easier to see and feel where you have applied a cream, plus they tend to be more hydrating than a dry mist.


The takeaway

The experts recommend you set aside a large window for applying sunscreen – don’t do it quickly then rush straight out into the sun. Think ahead and apply it earlier on in the day so that it has the chance to work to its full potential once you’re outside.

And remember to keep topping it up every two hours when you’re in direct sunlight. 


Meet the experts

Ian Michael Crumm is a celebrity aesthetican and beauty expert as well as co-host of the BeautyCurious podcast with Dr. Elyse Love. He is known for his passion for skincare and sun safety, is actively involved in philanthropic efforts to promote skin cancer awareness and believes that #ProtectedSkinWins.


Amber Shal is an aesthetician and founder of day spa Floral Spa and Aethetic Bar, specialising in everything from facials to massages and injectables.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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