We all know we’re supposed to wear sunscreen every day to protect the health and appearance of the skin.
But that doesn’t mean everyone does it ― and even for those of us who try, we tend to overlook certain areas of the skin. One key spot that people often miss is the eyelid area.
“I have seen some of the worst skin cancers in the eyelid area,” Dr. Karan Lal of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hillsborough, New Jersey, told HuffPost. “Skin cancer surgery in this area is complicated and can cause significant scarring which can cause chronic dry eyes. I have seen people lose their whole lower and upper eyelid skin from skin cancer.”
Applying sunscreen to the eyelids may feel counterintuitive. All our lives, we’ve been conditioned by labels that warn us to avoid applying anything near the eye area, and it has clearly stuck with many of us.
“Because the skin in this area is delicate, people may sometimes be wary of applying sunscreen to this area, or they may hold off because they think it will run into their eyes,” said New York City dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. “Or they may hold off because sunscreen they’ve used in the past in this area irritated their skin or messed up their eye makeup.”
Still, when it comes to sun protection, you definitely want to make sure you’ve got your eyelids covered. And there are ways to do this without experiencing irritation and discomfort. Below, experts break down the function of sunscreen on the eyelids and offer their advice for choosing the right product and applying it for maximum protection.
Why is it important to apply sunscreen to the eyelids?
“It’s important to apply sunscreen to all areas of skin exposed to UV radiation, and this includes the eyelids,” King said. “We frequently see sun-related skin cancers in the eye area, and in some cases, skin cancers in the eye area can be more difficult to treat and more aggressive.”
Dr. Papri Sarkar, a dermatologist in Newton, Massachusetts, emphasized that the eyelid is an especially unpleasant spot to need surgery on for skin cancer.
“There are a few places that are really not fun to have skin cancer surgery, and the area around the eye is definitely one of them,” she said. “Using sunscreen here prevents that.”
Cancer protection aside, applying sunscreen to the delicate eyelid skin also makes a difference from a cosmetic standpoint.
“The eyelids are prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from rubbing and scratching because the skin in this area is so thin,” Lal said. “Because eyelid skin is so thin, it is extremely susceptible to sun damage. This can result in droopy and crepey eyelid skin. Using sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing early-onset droopy eyelid skin.”
In addition to decreasing the formation of wrinkles on thin, sensitive eyelid skin, sunscreen can also help prevent dark circles from forming around the eyes.
“Sometimes, it’s due to volume loss or vessels under the skin and sometimes it’s due to an actual darkening of the skin in that area,” Sarkar said. “Using sunscreen around the eyes can help to prevent new or further pigmentation or darkening of the skin there.”
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What’s the best kind of sunscreen for this area?
All of the dermatologists who spoke to HuffPost recommended using mineral sunscreens when possible.
“Eyelid stinging and burning is very common, especially after the use of chemical sunscreens ― such as those containing oxybenzone and avobenzone ― so I only recommend physical blocking sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for eyelid skin,” Lal said, adding that you can use your eyelid sunscreen for the rest of your face as well.
Try to choose a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher. If a regular face sunscreen irritates your eyelids, King advised looking for a sunscreen made specifically for the eye area, such as Supergoop Bright Eyed 100% Mineral Eye Cream SPF 40 or powder sunscreens.
“There are now makeup eyeshadows that have sunscreen in them to allow for easier and elegant application,” Lal noted. “Many of them are combination physical and chemical sunscreens, so be careful and test them out to make sure you aren’t someone who is sensitive to chemical sunscreens.”
He does not recommend using these products as primary protection, however, because reapplying tends to be difficult and they aren’t particularly practical for the beach or other outdoor activities.
“I prefer using a tinted mineral sunscreen around the eyes, so I don’t need a concealer and tend to use two layers instead of applying one thick coat all at once,” Sarkar said.
What’s the best way to apply it?
Once you’re set on your sunscreen product of choice, make sure you actually apply it thoroughly.
“Always start with clean, dry hands,” Sarkar advised. “Use a small quantity at a time and apply in small areas and blend it in. I tend to apply to the skin right below the eyebrows, then the corner of the eye closest to the nose, then the actual eyelid, and then the undereye area.”
She recommended letting it dry completely and then repeating the process. Avoid getting sunscreen in your eyes, and wash your hands when you’re finished.
“If needed, apply makeup on top of sunscreen vs. beforehand,” Sarkar said. “You’ll get the best color payoff and correction this way.”
How else can you protect the eyelids?
“People who hate the feel of sunscreen or simply can’t tolerate it on their eyelids (and even people who can) should remember the benefit of adding sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat to your skin and your style,” Sarkar said. “I recommend polarized UV protective sunglasses that are in a larger size so it protects your eyes and the skin around it.”
She noted that a wide-brimmed hat also protects your upper face, neck, scalp and ears. Plus, it can make for a chic accessory.
“If you really want to go all-in, you can even add a UV face shield or sun visor,” Sarkar said. “They can be purchased from many stores/brands, but Bluestone Sunshields is one that is reputable and has good UV testing data.”