Moisturisers containing SPF are being applied less efficiently than sunscreen, particularly around the eyes, raising the risk of cancer, a new study suggests.
Previous studies have found that people do not use enough sunscreen around their eyes.
However, less is known about how thoroughly people apply SPF (sun protection factor) moisturisers, says the study in the open-access scientific journal PLos ONE.
Researchers found that more skin is missed with moisturisers, especially the eyelids, where the skin is delicate and more vulnerable to skin cancer.
“Moisturiser is not as well applied as sunscreen,” said lead author Kevin Hamill of the University of Liverpool.
“Therefore, if planning prolonged sun exposure, we advise sunscreen be used.
“If using moisturiser, we advise one with SPF: any SPF is better than none but it should not be considered the equal of sunscreen.”
Experts also advise wearing sunglasses with UV filters to help protect missed areas.
For the study, researchers exposed 84 volunteers to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and photographed them using a UV-sensitive camera on two separate visits.
Pictures were taken before and after participants applied SPF30 sunscreen to their face on one visit and moisturiser containing sunscreen on the other visit.
The moisturiser fared worse in the results, with nearly 17% of participants failing to cover their entire face.
Around one in 10 people, 12%, failed to achieve full coverage using SPF.
The differing results were mainly due to less coverage of the eyelid regions.
There was a 21% lower coverage of the area around the eyes with moisturiser compared to 14% with sunscreen.
Most participants were unaware they had worse coverage with moisturiser than sunscreen.
Study author Austin McCormick, an oculoplastic surgeon of the Aintree University Hospital Trust, said that eyelid cancers accounted for 10% of all basal cell carcinomas in the UK – the most common form of skin cancer.
He said: “The eyelid skin is very thin and this puts it at risk of UV damage.
“The area around the eyelashes and between the eyelids and the nose is least likely to be covered.”
He added that researchers expected the eyelid areas to be better covered with moisturiser compared to sunscreen.
“We thought the perception would be that moisturisers would cause less eye stinging if they accidentally seeped into the eyes, or we expected to find no difference between the two,” he said.
How to apply sunscreen
Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, is water-resistant and provides broad-spectrum coverage.
Studies have found that most people apply less than half the amount required to provide the level of protection, the British Association of Dermatologists say.
When using lotions, the bare minimum that is recommended to apply is at least six full teaspoons (around 36g) to cover the body of an average adult and more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to the face and neck.
Reapply it at least every two hours and immediately after swimming.
Sunscreen is most needed between March and November but should be worn all-year-round.
It is most needed between the hours 10am and 4pm and should ideally be applied half an hour before going outside.
Stop sunscreen seeping into eyes
Getting sunscreen in the eyes can lead to a chemical burn to the surface of the eye, potentially causing blurred vision, pain and discomfort for several days.
Choosing an SPF specifically designed to protect the eyelid regions can help prevent this.