“Sunscreen Contouring” Is More Dangerous Than You Think — Here’s Why

Megan Decker
·2 min read
PARIS, FRANCE – APRIL 07: Tamara Kalinic wears a brown leather jacket from Magda Butrym, a black low-neck top from Khaite, a black leather pouch bag with golden chain from Bottega Veneta, large flared blue denim jeans pants from Valentino, during a street style fashion photo session, on April 07, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE – APRIL 07: Tamara Kalinic wears a brown leather jacket from Magda Butrym, a black low-neck top from Khaite, a black leather pouch bag with golden chain from Bottega Veneta, large flared blue denim jeans pants from Valentino, during a street style fashion photo session, on April 07, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

TikTok loves a contour hack. The hashtag (#contour) brings up hundreds of thousands of short clips showing how to achieve “snatched” cheekbones and a sculpted jawline. The techniques run the gamut: Some people use a rose quartz gua sha stone for lymphatic drainage, while others try cleverly-applied gradual tanner. But there’s one beauty product that should never, ever be be used as a contour tool, and that’s SPF.

The concerning trend that’s popped up on TikTok involves applying high-SPF sunscreen sparingly, only touching the high points of your face where you’d put highlighter, then sitting in the sun with the hope of achieving a contoured effect via tan lines where you’ve skipped the sunscreen.

Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, says this kind of contouring is not only ill-advised; it’s very dangerous. “This is absolutely not a safe treatment,” says Dr. Zeichner. “We know that direct UV light exposure is the single greatest risk factor for the development of both premature aging as well as skin cancers.” Fellow NYC-based dermatologist Hadley King, MD, concurs, and says not to be be swayed by trendy “contour” marketing. “Remember that there is no such thing as a ‘healthy’ tan,” says Dr. King. “A tan is a defense mechanism that kicks in when your DNA is getting damaged.”

So how should you apply sunscreen? “Use a quarter-sized dollop for the full face,” instructs Dr. Zeichner. “Start with the middle of the face and rub the sunscreen out towards the periphery, making sure to get into the hairline. This ensures that you have no missed areas. Reapply every two hours or immediately after heavy sweating or swimming.”

Dr. King adds that body- or ab-contouring with sunscreen — which you may have also seen on your For You page — is also a no-go. “The general guidelines are to apply one ounce of sunscreen, which is enough to fill a shot glass, to any exposed areas of skin on the face and body,” she says. “Apply your sunscreen properly and liberally, and keep contouring with your makeup — your skin will thank you.”

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