Have you met my siblings? If you have, you know they're not like me. Their arms turn a warm, golden tan just from driving their cars. They seem immune to burns or freckles. My sister used to douse herself with SPF8 body oil and bake in the sun for hours, and my brother would get so dark working his summer landscaping job that I would swatch products on his arms to see how they'd work on NC40+ skintones. In other words, they take after my mother.
I did not. I am my father's daughter. And that means that I am white as a sheet, to the point that random strangers who see my bare calves peeking out from under a dress feel the need to tell me how white I am. (As if I hadn't noticed--really, what's the motivation for these comments?) I burn if I so much as blink at the sun funny. In fact, I experienced a truly terrible burn when I was a teenager, a burn so bad my back blistered, bled, and peeled for days afterwards and I'm now permanently covered in a layer of freckles.
That seems cute, right? Awe, freckles! We like freckles! Except every terrible sunburn I've gotten has increased my risk for skin cancer by terrifying percentages. Preventing skin cancer is my #1 reason for coating my body in layer upon layer of sunscreen, but also, burns hurt, and even unseen sun damage can cause premature aging. So sunscreen, folks! You need it, even if you aren't as pasty white as I am.
Before we get engrossed in individual products, let me just briefly explain the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens (namely zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) protect you by creating a physical barrier between your skin and the sun's rays. They can feel heavy and may leave a white cast on the skin, but they're also optimal for sensitive skin types. Chemical sunscreens (such as avobenzone and octinoxate) work by absorbing or even scattering the sun's rays. They are generally weightless, colorless, and odorless, but they may cause a burning or itching sensation on sensitive skin, and even people who don't have sensitive skin may notice that some chemical sunscreens irritate their face (especially around the eye area). Personally, I'm able to use both types on most days, but I want to make it clear where a product is physical only for my more sensitive-skinned readers.
- For sensitive skin: Blue Lizard Sensitive SPF30, 3oz for $13.99. This sunscreen has the trademarks of an all-physical sunscreen: it leaves a white cast on the skin and has a very thick formula that necessitates a good bit of rubbing in. That being said, it does seem to melt in to the skin after a half hour or so, and the complete lack of fragrance and chemical sunscreens means it works better than anything else when my skin is at its fussiest. I have never, ever gotten burnt wearing this stuff; it almost feels like a shield against the sun. A neat bonus feature: the lid turns blue when hit by UV rays.
- For busy days: La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Lotion Spray, 5oz for $35.99. As much as I love my Blue Lizard, there are days when I'm just not in the mood to spend 10 minutes rubbing my sunscreen in, and persuading my friends to wear SPF often necessitates a spray. This LRP option is one of the few sprays on the market that doesn't contain alcohol and doesn't irritate my skin. You do have to rub this in for a few seconds, and if you use too much, it can leave an oily sheen on the skin for a brief period. However, it's still a relatively quick and easy sunscreen to use. The one sucky thing? The price. Ugh, it kills me! I always try to get this one on sale.
- For under makeup: La Roche-Posay Hydraphase UV Intense SPF20, 1.69oz for $35.99. This one is relatively new to my collection. (Thus far, I'm enjoying the texture and the way it makes my skin feel, but I'm wondering if it might contain something that makes my skin break out. I'll keep you posted!) Technically, Hydraphase UV Intense is meant as a lightweight moisturizer for normal to oily skin; however, if I'm going to be outside for some time and I want to wear makeup, this makes a great under-makeup SPF for my dry skin. It sinks in quickly and provides a hint of moisture, and it gives me a smooth canvas for my makeup. SPF20 is lower than I would normally like, but if I'm going to be outside for more than an hour, I honestly won't usually wear makeup, anyway--I'll just wear the next option on this list.
- For long days outdoors: Isehan Sunkiller Perfect Strong Moisture SPF50, 1oz for ~$10.50. If you want something totally weightless that still provides good protection, Japanese sunscreens are hard to beat. The problem is that most contain drying alcohols, making them a bad choice for my dry, dehydrated skin. Enter this little bottle from Isehan, a super-sheer and elegant sunscreen that really does provide my skin with a touch of moisture. Weirdly enough, it doesn't seem to work well under makeup--foundation gets dry and streaky on top of it--but I absolutely love it for makeup-free days outside. Though it supposedly won't hold up to a day in the sun, I've yet to have an issue. I ordered my bottle for roughly $10.50 from a power seller on eBay; the link I used here has the ingredients listed in English.
- For the lips: Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF25, 0.25oz for $7.50. This popular lipbalm provides SPF25 in a rich, super-hydrating lanolin and avocado oil base. The addition of beeswax means that this product will also last on your lips for a good while. While I really enjoy this product, I think I'd like to have a lip balm with just the physical sunscreen filters--if anybody has suggestions for an SPF15+ balm that uses only physical sunscreens and won't dry out the lips, shout 'em out!
Sunscreens aren't the only things that can provide you with sun protection! Wearing clothing that covers your body can also add protection. This is easy in the winter, of course, but if it's hot out, you can still wear light, breathable fabrics like cotton (with your sunscreen!) to further protect your body.
I'm also a big fan of headgear. I originally started wearing them because my eyes are very lightly colored and water easily on bright days, but the added protection against harmful sun rays ended up being a fantastic bonus. I used to use a baseball cap, but unfortunately, it mildewed and it wasn't made of a washable material. I've since replaced it with an ADIDAS visor and a sunhat, both of which are adjustable and washable.
Another tip: use masking tape and a marker to note when you opened your sunscreen--I jot down the month and year. Not all sunscreens come with expiration dates, and even if they do, you may want to replace them every few years. I know I like to replace sunscreen no more than 2 years after it's been opened. Granted, I don't usually throw out unused body and face sunscreens because I stick with smaller bottles to prevent waste and make them more travel-friendly. Still! Proactive!