10 Ways To Be Way Smarter About Sun Protection

Aly Walansky
woman applying sunscreen

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Summer is finally ready to show itself, and we all want to spend more time basking in the sun. That’s a great idea — if you’re prepared. Sun protection isn’t just about dabbing on sunscreen before you head out for the day. Ward off sunburns and sun damage (and still have a blast this summer!) with the expert tips below for how to be smarter about protecting your skin from the sun.

Always be prepared
When it comes to sun protection, it’s all about being one step ahead. A lot of the time, people head to the beach, slather on their SPF, and go about their day without ever reapplying. Sunscreen loses its effectiveness with or without a dip in the ocean. “The SPF number should be multiplied by the amount of minutes it works against the sun’s potentially damaging rays. If you start to burn or tan after 6 minutes, and you slather on SPF 20, then you have 120 minutes of protection. Once you know how long you’re protected, you can be smarter about when to apply!” says Los Angeles makeup artist and founder of the all-natural skincare line SkinOwl, Annie Tevelin. 

MORE: Your Excuse to Not Wear SPF on Your Face Ends With These New Sunscreens

Sunscreen is only effective if you apply enough to protect yourself. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. Most of us are aware enough to know to wear sunscreen. But are you applying correctly? A good rule of thumb is to apply a nickel-size amount to the face and two tablespoons (about enough to fill a shot glass) to the body. “Additionally, most people don’t reapply sunscreen often enough, which is as bad as not wearing sunscreen at all. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. Water-resistant sunscreens provide between 40 to 80 minutes of protection. These should be reapplied often, especially while swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel,” says dermatologist Dr. Joel Schlessinger.

Summer Kramer, a pharmacist, melanoma survivor and founder of SummerSkin points out that we need to protect our skin all year round, even on cold and cloudy days, and that sunscreen only takes us so far. On average, only about two hours! But sunscreen is only part of the equation. Kramer suggests checking the UV index, just like the weather, before heading out. This will give you a good indicator of how cognizant you need to be of protecting yourself on any given day. It can be cloudy and still have a high UV index!

Take your vitamins
“Sunburn is an inflammatory process. UV light inflames (reddens) the skin and overexposure leads to sun-aging, wrinkled, thinned blotchy skin. Asthxanthin, nature’s powerful antiflammatory nutrient, acts like and internal sunscreen. Studies show what people supplemented with 4mg a day of Natural Hawaiian Astaxanthin for two weeks experienced less reddening from sun exposure,” says says Dr. William Sears, world-famous pediatrician and author of many books, including Astaxanthin: Seafood’s Ultimate Supernutrient.

…But beware of medical cocktails. Kramer says to be sure to read the labels on your medication. Some prescriptions make us more sensitive to UV rays, and therefore making us more prone to burn. If you’re unsure, any pharmacist or doctor would be happy to let you know.

MORE: The What, Where, and How of Applying Sunscreen

Be ready, rain or shine
We know how important it is to wear sunscreen on a sunny day, but what about on a cloudy day? UV rays that push their way through clouds actually come out stronger on the other end! “These are the days when sunscreen matters the most. Keep your sunscreen in your in your medicine cabinet all year round so you remember to use it rain or shine!” says Tevelin.

Even if you are sitting next to the window, those rays are pouring right in. Experts are even recommending wearing sunscreen indoors to protect against skin cancer and early aging. 

Dress to Burn Less
Wear light colors. Dark or bright colors attract and hold heat from the sun. “Be aware of material thickness: Thinner materials feel great on hot days but the bigger the weave the more they let in the sun rays,” says Haley Kulow, CEO and Founder of HK Beauty Consulting, an aesthetician and makeup artist.

Clothing can provide an additional layer of protection. Hats are a great way to keep the sun’s damaging rays off your face. Choose a wide-brimmed hat with tightly woven fabric to keep your scalp covered.  Long-sleeved shirts and lightweight, loose-fitting pants are ideal. Many companies are also coming out with clothing specifically designed for sun protection. “For fair and sun-sensitive skin types, clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) value enhances their protection against sun damage and related health risks. Sun protection clothing carries a UPF rating between 15 (good) to 50+ (excellent),” says Dr. Schlessinger.

Mind your lips
Lips are extremely susceptible to sunburn because they don’t have melanin, which can help protect skin from UV rays. Try using a lip moisturizer with an SPF of 20 or higher at least 15 minutes before going outside. You’ll have summer soft lips and won’t have to worry about leaving with a tan and a swollen, blistered pout, suggests W Austin’s AWAY Spa Director Candice Betz.

Shades that actually shade
Stylish sunglasses might matter to your image now but sunglasses that don’t protect your eyes from the sun will hurt your image in the future. Literally, not wearing proper sunglasses coverage can burn your eyeballs, cause wrinkles around your eyes and hurt your vision.