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Sunscreen 101

Categories: beauty

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I am very, very fair skinned; I don’t really ever tan. Instead, I burn almost instantaneously, which means that I have resolved myself to a lifetime of looking like an extra from the “Twilight” saga. My goal every summer is to go to the pool as often as possible and never have tan lines.

With the right sunscreen, a big hat and a chair in the shade, that is totally doable, by the way.

Unfortunately, I’ve not always been quite so sun smart; as a child, I was burned more times than I can count. In particular, I remember entire summers where my nose would burn and peel, layer after layer of skin flaking off and turning pink and flaking off. Nobody thought anything of it; that’s just what happened when you played tennis and rode your bike and swam and spent every waking minute of every day outdoors.

As an adult, I have become a hard-core sunscreen advocate. I’ve been wearing sunscreen daily for nearly 25 years now, winter and summer, rain or shine. And it has paid off — recently, the aesthetician who tends to my eyelashes and eyebrows asked if I’d had Botox. No, I said, and she marveled at how few wrinkles I have.

Sunscreen FTW!


While I’ve dodged some of the more obvious signs of sun damage, I haven’t escaped the consequences of all those sunscreen-free years. I had a spot on my nose biopsied today, because my dermatologist (who has great skin, of course) is convinced that it’s basal cell carcinoma.

That’s skin cancer, people.

Fortunately, it’s the good kind of cancer — basal cell, according to my doctor, will not kill me (phew). But it was still a little nerve wracking to hear the C word, even in it’s most innocuous form. And it reminded me that with the pool opening in a few weeks (five, precisely, if you start counting from this coming Saturday), it’s time for a quick sunscreen refresher.

Protect your face with an SPF of at least 15. Using a foundation with SPF? That’s good, but you can do better. Foundation is designed to rest on top of your skin, which means that as your day goes on, it will slide and wear off, leaving you unprotected. For better coverage, opt for a light moisturizer with SPF; apply foundation over it. And don’t assume that if your moisturizer has an SPF of 25 and your foundation has an SPF of 15 that your total is a 40 — it doesn’t work that way. The higher number is all the protection you’re getting. I’m a big fan of Neutrogena’s sunscreens; for day, I wear Healthy Skin Enhancer, which is a light tinted moisturizer with an SPF of 20. For more extensive sun exposure, I wear Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock (SPF 70), with or without makeup.

Don’t forget about your body. For daily wear, opt for something like Lubriderm’s Daily Moisture or Eucerin’s Daily Protection lotion. Both have an SPF of 15, which is perfect for a normal day of running errands and shuttling kids around. Cover your whole body, every morning; reapply to hands every time you wash during the day. And don’t forget your neck (back and front) and your ears — they need protection, too. Right after the dermatologist sliced part of my nose off today he froze two spots, on my hand and my ear. Neither was cancerous, but both had the potential. Lotion up, ladies.

Be smart about application. I’m sure you know that you need to reapply sunscreen every two hours, at least, but did you know that you need to put your sunscreen on 30 minutes before you even go out in the sun? Because yes, you do. And did you know that lotion is a better base than spray? Because it is. For the best protection, lotion up (the average adult needs one ounce, or about a shot glass full, of lotion to completely cover everything) and then follow up every hour you’re outside with spray. The exception: Don’t use spray sunscreen on your face. For obvious reasons.

If you’re really, really serious about staying skin cancer free, wear a hat and sunglasses, and opt for clothes that cover your arms and legs. Or do what I do and get comfy in the shade. It’s the best place to spend the summer. I promise.

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One comment so far...

  • I have a question I have pondered for years, and you are the person I’m finally going to ask:

    How do you reapply sunscreen on your face every couple of hours if you’re wearing makeup?

    Thanks Susan ;)

    Kim Yamaguchi  |  April 24th, 2012 at 5:46 pm