Summer Sun Safety 101

When it comes to sun safety, the advice can be contradictory and confusing. Hang on to your wide-brimmed hat, because we’re about to get sun safety down cold (or hot, as it were), and find some gadgets and apps that can help, too.

I try to keep up with sun protection advice, but I end up getting burned. Use this handy spray! No, wait; don’t spray your children with that! Wear sunscreen! Oops, that might mess up your hormones… Stay out of the sun, but not until you get that Vitamin D, so get out there! Wear a high SPF, except certain SPF numbers are useless!

Sigh. What’s a sun-loving girl to do?

A recent study from Northwestern confirms that shoppers are confused by what SPF really means, and how sunscreen actually works. Almost half the people in the study reported that they automatically grab a sunscreen with the highest SPF value available. This overreliance on high SPF values is a concern, wrote the study’s lead author, dermatologist Dr. Roopal Kundu. “Just because you buy SPF 100 doesn’t mean you are 100 percent protected,” Kundu said. “Staying out of the sun is the only way to guarantee 100 percent protection.” A lot of people were unsure about the definition of SPF, as well. Only 43 percent understood what the numbers mean and how often you have to reapply. Yikes.

My childhood was full of mandatory tanning sessions— it wasn’t a vacation if you didn’t come back with a peeling nose and chocolate limbs— and as a result I have some charming sunspots on my face and would love not to add any more to the pile. And I’d like to not spray myself down with toxins while I’m at it. But that doesn’t mean I’m staying indoors: Here’s my Sun Protection Cheat Sheet, some of my favorite sunscreens, and some tech to help you stay safe outdoors:

Sun Protection Cheat Sheet

  • The suns rays come in two flavors: [highlight] UV-A and UV-B [/highlight] . UV-Bs cause sunburns, while UV-As give you wrinkles, leathery skin and skin cancer.
  • A sunscreen labelled “ [highlight] broad spectrum [/highlight] ” will protect against both kinds. For maximum protection, you want one that’s water resistant too, though that doesn’t mean you won’t have to reapply when you get out of the water. (Turns out, water resistant sunscreen isn’t really water resistant, so go figure.)
  • SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, measures how well the sunscreen protects against UV-B rays. An SPF of 30 blocks 97 percent of the UVB radiation, so that should be sufficient for most people. An SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent, which hardly seems like an improvement. However, “if you have very light skin or a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a difference,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
  • [highlight] Reapply [/highlight] . Every two hours. You gotta. Set an alarm on your phone so you don’t forget.
  • How much sunscreen do you need? Experts say “use a shot glass full” (about 1 oz.) on your entire body, each time you apply.
  • Common spots that people forget to protect? Ears, eyelids, lips, the tops of their feet and their scalps, according to The Cleveland Clinic, so don’t skip those easy-to-miss spots.
  • It takes approximately [highlight] 15-20 minutes [/highlight] for sunscreen to absorb into your skin and protect you, so spray yourself down in advance.

My Favorite Sunscreens

Sunscreens usually contain a blend of ingredients, with both chemical and physical sun blockers. Chemical sunscreens absorb and scatter the UV light, while physical sunscreens deflect the UV light. Chemical sunscreens do a good job at protecting against UV-A and UV-B, but there are growing concerns about these ingredients. For example, oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen and can disrupt the body’s hormone system. Retinyl palmitate may actually increase the risk of cancer. I don’t want to get a sunburn, but I also don’t want to dip myself and my family into a vat of chemicals.

Tina Keshishian, an esthetician who owns Belle Visage, a medical spa in Studio City, Calif., sees plenty of clients with sun-damaged skin. She notes that Vitamin D plays a big role in our bodies, and in anti-aging. She wears a BB cream called Senna Barely Base, which has an SPF 20 from titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and also recommends using an antioxidant to prevent sunspots, such as from her TinaK line.

Tina K. products

Tina K.’s Hydrant K. Vitamin D oil, and Antioxidant K. brightening creme shield against sun damage, naturally.

These days, I look for clean, mineral-based sunscreens. I loved these recommendations from Goop, and here are some more from The Wall Street Journal.

Here are some of my other favorites, for the kids and myself:

[show_lookbook_widget id=”225874″]

Sun Safe Tech

The app sunZapp Pro was developed in partnership with the National Cancer Institute. It gathers information on your location, skin type, and the hourly-updated UV Index from NOAA to create personalized sun protection recommendations for you and up to four other friends or family. The app gives you sunscreen application reminders, and alerts you when the UV is high. The app is available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores.

Netatmo June

Netatmo June like a stylish bracelet, but is actually a wearable monitor with an accompanying app. The “jewel” is a UV sensor, so June will notify you when you need to apply sun protection and give you real-time advice via your iPhone.


sun friend

Sun Friend is a customizable, waterproof activity monitor that keeps track of your UV exposure. An LED will flash when you’ve gotten just the right amount of sunlight, alerting you that it’s now time to apply a safe, nontoxic sunscreen.


Ultraviolet is an app that shows you the current UV index for your location and across the world, and gives forecasts for tomorrow. The color-coded interface lets you know what level of sun protection you need. It’s available at the iTunes store.

And, of course, there’s no better sunscreen than a big umbrella or a floppy hat. How about you? What’s your favorite way to stay sun safe this summer?

Dreamy Italy photo borrowed from Camille Styles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *