It’s the first day of summer and you know what that means: you’ll be hearing from me about how to have fun in the sun without burning your buns!
It’s no secret that I’m a staunch advocate for skin cancer prevention. If there is a secret to be had, it’s that the gothier part of me also kinda likes being pale. (Also, I take meds that make me literally allergic to direct sunlight. Weirdest side effect ever, I know. More on that later.) Whether you’re hoping to retain your Victorian aesthetic, are looking for ways to combat a medication-induced sun sensitivity, or are simply a skin cancer prevention warrior, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve obsessively battled UV radiation for more than a decade now so I’m kind of a sun protection guru. Follow these tips and you, too, will be able to hit up the beach or go for long hikes without suffering sunburns or photoaging (I don’t know about you but the only wrinkles I’m willing to tolerate are laugh lines).
1. Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Properly Applied Sunscreen!
It should go without saying that sunscreen is at the top of any sun protection list. Sunscreen application is both the bare minimum and your first line of defense when it comes to sun protection. Unfortunately, the sunscreen discussion tends to end with “apply daily.” Are you applying it effectively though, and reapplying every 90 minutes if you’re sweating? Do you know the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens? You’ve heard of the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) but have you heard of the PA system (or Protective Grade of UVA) and the Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD) reaction? If not, I cover these topics in more detail in my most effective sunscreens article.The most important takeaways are to look for sunscreens with an SPF 50 PA++++ rating and to make sure you’re not skimping on the amount of sunscreen you apply! The American Academy of Dermatology urges adults to apply at least 1 oz of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) for optimal efficiency. Also, ladies: Slapping on a BB cream with SPF in the morning will not protect you the way you think it will. BB creams and tinted moisturizers with added SPF protection are great for an additional layer of sun protection but unless you’re cool with a sticky, cakey face, chances are you’re not applying a thick enough layer to get full protection. Speaking of sticky, sunscreen doesn’t have to be sticky! Again, if you’re overwhelmed by the number of sunscreen options on the market, check out my everyday sunscreen recommendations for people who hate sunscreen.
2. Optimize Your Wardrobe For UPF Protection
Okay, so I’ll admit I was once part of the camp who thought clothing provided adequate sun protection. In reality, most summer clothing (think thin, cottony fabric) only provides a UPF of about 5. The Skin Cancer Foundation contradicts my statement that sunscreen is the first line of defense in a sun protection arsenal since most people don’t apply it properly. They give some awesome tips on picking out clothes that provide more protection than your favorite t-shirt (hint: color, construction, size, and fit all play a role in an item of clothing’s protection level). As someone who has experimented with summer-friendly, radiation-fighting clothing for years, I have some tips of my own to keep you cool and your skin safe:
Loose fitting jean jackets = LIFE
My favorite vintage Levi jean jacket is the perfect accessory for any summer outfit from sundress to t-shirt. Its loose fit prevents the fabric from sticking to my skin and the think denim material is thick enough to keep out the bad rays.
Sometimes long sleeves keep you cooler!
My Italian, olive-skinned fiancé will never believe me on this, but I’ve experienced more relief with long-sleeved shirts in moisture-wicking polyester or nylon than if I’d exposed a bare arm to the sun. Sunlight penetrates the skin and increases body temperature. Think of synthetic fabrics like an umbrella for your skin: a slight shade will cool you down, even on the hottest summer day.
The innovators at Coolibar should win a Nobel Prize
Coolibar was the first clothing company to provide fashionable UPF50+ clothing. Although a few other brands have since followed suit (see: Uv Skinz and Solbari ), Coolibar is the top brand recommended by The Skin Cancer Foundation. They carry everything from blankets and dresses to pants, shirts, and swimwear for men, women, and children. I’m a huge fan of their gloves and arm sleeves for covering up while I’m driving.
3. Be that Oversized Hat-Loving, Umbrella-Wielding Weirdo Wherever You Go
A decade ago, we thought Japanese tourists were weird for walking with umbrellas on sunny summer days. Now, we know better, but the umbrella stigma lingers. An introvert by nature, I hate the involuntary conversation my umbrella invites, but I use the curiosity of others to educate them about skin cancer prevention. Did you know that the scalp is one of skin cancer’s favorite places to rear its ugly head (no pun intended)? Probably not, because you can’t exactly slather sunscreen on your scalp (well, I guess you can but who would want to?). Umbrellas are great for both shade and UV protection, but you can’t carry them everywhere. If you’re into gardening or outdoor running (don’t forget your waterproof SPF!), a big floppy hat is more feasible. I have this oversized black Kentucky Derby-esque hat that radiates glamor and does an excellent job shielding my face, neck, and shoulders when I’m on the go (goth girls, hit me up for hat-buying recs). For running, although not as effective, I’d suggest a good old-fashioned baseball cap.
4. Educate Yourself on Medication Side Effects and Skincare Routine Interactions
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I have a medication-induced sun allergy. My condition is rare, but sun sensitivity as a side effect of certain medications is far more common. Your skincare regimen might also produce sun sensitivity. Retinols, AHAs and BHAs (and the myriad additional acids found on the market these days), Benzoyl Peroxide, enzymes, and a variety of other ingredients carry warnings to avoid or limit sun exposure. These warnings are not to be taken lightly. Take it from the girl who ended up in urgent care with chemical burns after a trip to New Orleans: it’s in your best interest to set an alarm so you don’t forget to reapply your SPF every 90 minutes. I’d also highly recommend physical/mineral sunscreens over chemical ones for sensitive skin types. (One of my newest favs for face and body application is Make P:rem UV Defense Calamine Sun Milk SPF 50 PA++++. Large sizes and decent prices for Korean skincare? Yay!)
I can go on and on (and on and on and on) about different ways to protect your skin from sun damage, but these four easy tips are a good place for novice skin cancer warriors to start.