How long should I apply sunscreen before going out in the sun?

First published June 2017; updated May 2019

There are many different types of sunscreens available including creams, gels and lotions, and when applied properly, will provide good protection.

When choosing a sunscreen ensure that it is broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30+, with high UVA protection, and water resistant if you intend to swim. Also check that it has a valid expiry date.

Apply sunscreen to clean, dry skin 20 minutes before going out in the sun. It takes the skin this amount of time to absorb the sunscreen in order to protect you.

Most people don’t apply sunscreen correctly. You should apply at least one teaspoon to each body part.

  • Head/face/neck
  • Each arm
  • Each leg
  • Your front
  • Your back

Sunscreen should not be your main method of sun protection, but rather used in conjunction with other methods of sun protection such as seeking shade, particularly between 11am and 3pm, when the UV rays are strongest, wearing sun protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.

Reapply frequently, at least every two hours and after exercising, sweating, swimming, or towel drying. Sunscreen helps reduce exposure to UV radiation, but it should not be used to increase the amount of time you can spend in the sun.

Related: Families: Information about sun protection for babies and children.


We want everyone in Ireland to learn to Protect & Inspect their skin! Read our short guide, written with hospital-based dermatologists, to checking your skin.   

Click for more about Protect & Inspect!

Share: