Proper Protection from the Summer Sun

by Sonja on June 12, 2009

Even though I know more than I used to. I recently found that I had a lot to learn about protecting my skin from the damaging rays of the sun. I’m well beyond those years when I thought very little of sunscreens, those years when people basted themselves in baby oil and fried their skin to get that coveted, golden suntan. How times have changed.

Now I’m perfectly fine with having fair skin and pretty much everyone knows how damaging the sun’s rays are. I’m much more careful about wearing sunscreen and protecting my skin so I can keep my skin look younger as long as possible. Prevention is the best medicine. I would prefer to slow down the wrinkles, saggy skin, and age spots that the sun so generously contributes to. I would also like to steer completely clear of skin cancer.

It’s highly likely that you need to toss that sunscreen you bought last year.

Now that it’s warmer and I’m spending more time outside (and because I’m seeing the effects of the sun on my face more these days), I wanted to get better educated on what I should be doing. I did some research and checked in with world-renowned, pioneering researcher and dermatologist-dermatopathologist Dr. Vermén M. Verallo-Rowell, founder of VMV Hypoallergenics. First off, I want to let you know that Dr. Verallo-Rowell points out it’s not just the sun we should be concerned about. She says studies show that indoor lights can cause and worsen existing hyper pigmentations, so get ready to put on that sunscreen rain or shine, indoor or out. But which one to use? There are so many options that it gets confusing so I also have recommendations for great sunscreens.

Deciphering SPFs

It seems like the smart choice would be to buy a sunscreen with the highest SPF rating available. But is it really? Not necessarily. What do those numbers mean? SPF stands for sun protection factor and the number is mostly about the amount of time you’re protected and less about the quality of the protection. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, SPF ratings refer to how well the sunscreen deflects the sun’s rays and are calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce a sunburn on protected skin vs. on unprotected skin. Here are a couple examples:

It seems like the smart choice would be to buy a sunscreen with the highest SPF rating available. But is it really? Not necessarily.

• If a sunscreen is rated a SPF 2 and a person normally turns red after ten minutes of sun exposure, when they use a SPF 2 sunscreen, it would instead take twenty minutes, or twice as long to turn red.
• If this person uses a SPF 15 sunscreen, it would take 15 times as long to burn, or 150 minutes.

But here’s the kicker, if you wear a SPF 50 sunscreen, you won’t be protected for 500 minutes, because sunscreen breaks down and rubs off with normal wear so it needs to be reapplied every two hours… so there’s not much point in spending more on something that’s higher than SPF 15, which is the minimum that dermatologists recommend using.

When you use something with a higher SPF rating, you will get a bit more protection but it’s not a big difference – only about one or two more percent more protection even if the SPF is significantly higher (for example, 95% - 97% protection from UV light when using SPF 15 vs. 96% - 98% protection with SPF 30). No sunscreen will 100% block out the rays. If your skin is super sensitive (say, you burn very easily), that little bit of extra protection might make a difference. But more than likely, SPF 15 will work perfectly fine.

UVAs and UVBs

Now onto UVA and UVB. You may have read or heard that doctors are now recommending that you get something with “broad-spectrum” protection. That means the sunscreen protects you from UVA and UVB radiation. Dr. Verallo-Rowell says both of these can cause skin cancer. “UVA does not burn the skin like UVB does, yet it is so much more abundant than UVB, and is now known, in the long run, to produce almost as much sun damage, immunosuppression of UVA damaged skin, and also contributes significantly towards the development of skin cancer and photo-aging.” Read those labels. Look for broad spectrum coverage.

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen?

Another thing I’ve been noticing more now is brands pointing out that they offer physical sunscreens, sans chemicals. What’s the difference and why would we choose one over the other? Dr. Verallo-Rowell says there’s debate around this, because both types can protect skin from UV rays and each has various pros and cons. She says chemical sunscreens contain synthetic, chemical substances to absorb UV rays, are colorless, odorless, and feel lighter. But they can generate free radicals that can lead to skin aging, and can be irritating and cause allergic reactions.

Physical sunscreens, also known as sun blocks, contain ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to physically block and scatter UV rays. They protect against UVA and UVB rays and don’t cause free radicals. She says they’re also less likely to cause allergies and irritations, because they don’t get absorbed. Some people complain that sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide feel chalky and heavy. But after testing several physical sunblocks, it seems like companies have come a long way in creating sunblocks that a more lightweight than they used to be and don’t have that stinky sunscreen smell. Whichever you choose, she recommends making sure you find one that provides broad-spectrum coverage.

Important To Know

• How, When, and Where to Apply. Be careful to not dilute your sunscreen with other skin care products. Apply lightly on top of toner and/or moisturizer after they’ve had a chance to absorb – about a half hour before heading outside. Also don’t forget your decollete and hands, which get lots of sun exposure. Like lots of people, these are areas I often forget about so a lot of us end up with a lot of the signs of aging in these areas, much to our surprise – and after it’s too late to do much about it. So take whatever you put on your face and sweep some down along the neck and chest and take whatever’s left and rub it into your hands.

You’ve seen farmer tans and might think your clothes protect you from harmful rays. But that’s not necessarily the case.

• How Often. As mentioned above, reapply sunscreen every couple hours. Of course, if you’re wearing makeup, you’re not likely going to want to take off your makeup and start over. Instead I use a powder with SPF, like Jane Iredale Powder Me SPF 30 Dry Sunscreen ($44) or Benefit “hello flawless!” (which has SPF 15, $34).

• Time of Day. Be careful about when you’re exposing yourself to the sun. “Remember, putting on a sunscreen is not really a license to go out under the mid-day sun,” Dr. Verallo-Rowell says. The AAD recommends simply avoiding sun exposure between 10am and 3pm.

• Throw It Out Already. It’s highly likely that you need to toss that sunscreen you bought last year. Dr. Verallo-Rowell says the average shelf life of sunscreen is usually about a year and a half; but they can stop working before that. Keep an eye on changes in texture and consistency. “Sunscreens are classified as over the counter drugs and must be treated as such, especially because they are often exposed to extreme conditions: kept in beach bags, or in car seats, on the sand, kept uncovered, with water contaminating it, etc.,” Dr. Dr. Verallo-Rowell says. “These conditions can make the emulsion break down (you open the tube and something watery comes out in lieu of a cream) even before the expiration date!”

• Under Clothes. You’ve seen farmer tans and might think your clothes protect you from harmful rays. But that’s not necessarily the case. Dr. Verallo-Rowell says you should still use a sunscreen under lightweight clothes if you’re going to be outside for an extended amount of time during warm, summer months. She says, “Skin covered by clothing is not protected from the sun.  Clothing does not guard against the sun unless it has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) greater than 20.  UPF is the level of protection provided by the garment from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. For example, a garment with UPF 20 only allows 1/20th of the sun’s UV radiation to pass through it.”

Extra Protection. Along with using a quality sunscreen, put on a wide-brimmed hat, some large sunglasses, and makeup with sun protection to give you bonus protection.

Recommended Sunscreens

To make things more confusing, the Environmental Working Group conducted a study of nearly a thousand name-brand sunscreens and found that four out of five sunscreens offer inadequate protection or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns. For instance, not a single Coppertone product was found to be safe and effective. Check the EWG list of the best and worst to see if your sunscreen was studied and how it ranks.

Personally, I’ve been testing many sunscreens this year. Here are some that I’ve found to be great to use for the face. Some even provide all-in-one skin care.

VMV Hypoallergenics, which Dr. Verallo-Rowell founded, is a unique brand of hypoallergenic cosmeceuticals, skin care, personal care, and cosmetics with hypoallergenicity validated with a proprietary rating system (like SPF, but for allergen omission) – a great choice for sensitive skin. I tried the Armada SPORT 70 ($40, on left in photo to the left), which provides broad-spectrum protection with a SPF between 70-90. It’s very lightweight, comfortable to wear, and ideal to use when you’re going to be active or in extreme conditions. It was designed to create a unique “barrier-film” or invisible “second skin” to stay on skin in and out of water and while exposed to harsh sun and heat. This can be used on face and body.

ARCONA Reozone 20 ($25-32) rates well in the EWG study. Next month they’re launching a new one: Reozone 40 ($28, on right in photo above). It provides broad-spectrum protection with titanium and zinc oxides, soothes with sodium hyaluronate, and guards against future sun damage and neutralizes free radicals with antioxidant sodium selenite. It has a nice, light texture with a subtle tint that instantly perfects the way my skin looks. ARCONA products do not contain petrochemicals, binders or fillers, parabens, SLS, perfumes, dyes, or other toxic ingredients.

All-In-One Products

Marie-Veronique Organics makes great sunscreens. All of them provide broad-spectrum coverage with zinc oxide, contain lovely natural ingredients and no harmful chemicals, nanoparticles, parabens, fillers, waxes, or fragrance. Their Crème du Jour SPF 30 ($34.99, top right) made it into the EWG top ten list. This sunscreen is vegetarian, feels very light, and is a soothing moisturizer. I recommend getting the tinted option, which makes my skin look more even.

Jurlique just came out with a heavenly new day cream for the face: Purely Age-Defying Day Cream SPF 15 ($45, top right). It provides natural, broad-spectrum protection with a blend of hand-tended organic herbs and flowers grown on their farm. It has a unique, lightweight, soufflé-like texture I adore. This is a sunscreen, moisturizer, and skin treatment. It’s designed to protect, hydrate, soften, moisturize, soothe, fade the appearance of dark spots and discoloration, increase radiance, and reduce lines and wrinkles.

Kinerase Daily Defense Cream SPF 30 ($135, bottom left) is an excellent new, gentle anti-aging treatment and moisturizer with broad-spectrum sun protection. It’s designed to protect, minimize the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, discoloration and age spots, and make blotchy skin look more even. But it does all this without the side effects associated with retinoid use. It contains Kinetin, which has been proven to improve the skin’s ability to retain moisture.

It’s rich and creamy without feeling heavy and makes skin feel very smooth, silky, and hydrated. It feels light enough for my normal/combination skin and rich enough for my mom’s mature, dry skin (there’s also a lotion version for oilier skins). It’s hypoallergenic, free of fragrances and dyes so it’s not irritating and ideal for people with sensitive skin, including those with dermatitis, eczema, and rosacea. It also comes in new super smart, airless packaging to allow every last drop to be used and preserve the lotions benefits in an airtight environment.

Body Deli Solar Defense Day Cream ($42, bottom right in photo above) is a wonderful, natural moisturizer and skin protector with a micronized mineral shield of titanium and zinc oxide to give SPF 25, and also contains antioxidants from vitamins C and E to neutralize free radicals. It contains what they call bio-active fresh cells of fruits and vegetables to nourish and feed the skin. It has no odor and is nice and lightweight so it’s ideal for hot, summer months.

Sun Specialists for Eyes and Lips

Eyes seem to be the first place where wrinkles appear. Yet there are very few eye creams with sun protection so definitely check out the best-seller Dermelect Age Def-Eye Cream with SPF 15 ($36). It’s an eye care specialist that moisturizes, softens, gives broad-spectrum coverage and acts as a barrier to destructive free radicals. It’s designed to smoothe and even the eye contour area and make skin feel more comfortable and supple. It diminishes fine lines, wrinkles, and crow’s feet. It also soothes with aloe vera and calms with chamomile. It feels thicker than most eye creams. But once I warm it up between my fingers, it glides on nicely.

Lips are especially sensitive to the drying effects of the sun so be sure to pick up a good lip balm with plenty of sun protection. I really like the award-winning Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25 with Natural Mint and Shea Butter ($7, on left). It penetrates quickly and does an excellent job soothing, conditioning, and softening dry, chapped lips. It provides broad-spectrum sun protection, moisturizes, guards against windburn and temperature extremes, and protects against free radical damage with antioxidants.

A more glamorous option is JUARA Candlenut Lip Balm SPF 20 ($18, on right), which provides broad-spectrum coverage, moisturizes and softens with candlenut oil, prevents moisture loss with beeswax, and protects from free radicals with vitamin E. It’s very smooth and creamy and comes in a stylish, mirrored compact.

Next Up… Come back next week to check out my recommendations for the body.

Do Tell

Have any stories of sunburns past or lying out for hours to get a tan? How good are you about protecting your skin? Do tell.

P.S. Check out our regularly updated Beauty Resources page for some amazing beauty deals at,, Sephora, and more.

Spread the Love!
  • email
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Tumblr
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn


Mary Barrow June 12, 2009 at 4:26 am

Thank you for all the good advice. I agree with most of it, but wanted to add a few hints. Firstly, be careful to check that SPF 15 products are in fact “broad spectrum” meaning they block both UVA and UVB. Products with SPF 30 are almost always broad spectrum, while SPF 15 is not. Secondly, you are right about clothing. Light weight clothing does not always offer sun protection, so why not use sun protective clothing. offers all kinds of different styles for different ages and activities. And both the American Academy of Dermatologists and the Skin Cancer Foundation say sun protective clothing should be the first line of defense, and they give Coolibar their seals of approval.

Sal June 12, 2009 at 7:24 am

My gosh, I had no idea … about most of this stuff! Thanks for an eye-opening and in-depth exploration of sun protection, Sonja.

Sal’s last blog post..The Next Best Thing to a Fitting

Sonja June 12, 2009 at 9:24 am

❤ Mary, yes, people should definitely look for broad spectrum coverage as I mentioned in the article.
❤ Sal, you’re very welcome! So glad you found the information helpful! Hopefully, it will help you in your plan to stay pale this summer. ;)

nancy June 12, 2009 at 10:34 am

Thanks for the information and great reminders as summer, and outdoor adventures, are upon us!

As a child I had a sunburnt nose all summer, peel, peel, peel! I burn easily so I don’t sit out in the sun anymore.
I shall try and embrace my paleness!

And I won’t forget my sunscreen tomorrow at the car show!

Michelle June 12, 2009 at 10:45 am

Great post, and very timely too! I’m not sure if it’s because we moved someplace where I’m planning on getting out and about more, or if I’m just paranoid this year, but I’ve been very worried about sun exposure. The Maybelline mineral makeup line has powder and liquid foundations with SPF 15 also, which I’ve had good luck with so far. I wouldn’t use it alone of course! I’m currently on the hunt for a good facial moisturizer for oily skin with sun protection, so I’ll take a look at the sunscreen database. Thanks :)

Michelle’s last blog post..Things I Love Thursday

Sonja June 12, 2009 at 11:10 am

❤ Michelle, so glad you found it helpful. It’s so great that so many makeup companies are including SPF in their products. I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t rely on them alone but only as additional protection and perhaps to make the sun protection stay on better.

I read Proactiv’s product guide and see that they have a sunscreen that is good for oily skin and even helps with blemishes. I have one but haven’t tested it yet. You might want to stop by one of their kiosks to check it out.

As for an all-in-one moisturizer, any of the ones I listed above would probably work well for you (except you’d want the lighter, lotion version of the Kinerase). Good luck! More sun protection! Less wrinkles! I think that’s my new motto. :)

lisa June 12, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Fantastic advice and a really timely reminder to protect our skin properly! I wear SPF moisturizer daily but I’m not super diligent about applying it throughout the day. :(

lisa’s last blog post..So Many Summer Sales…

leigh June 12, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Great post! I’m bummed because i just spent a lot of money on a Lancome daily moisturizer with SPF 30, and i just don’t feel it is doing a good job. My freckles are popping up like crazy, which just didn’t happen when i was using a cheaper Olay moisturizer/sunscreen. Thanks for all of your suggestions. I’m paranoid about the sun, but also paranoid about putting all those chemicals on my skin every day. I think I’ll look at some of the organic options listed…

leigh’s last blog post..Fashion for a Cause

pam munro June 12, 2009 at 2:16 pm

When I go out on the water in our boat, I add creamy makeup as sun coverage. It has an ingredient that physically stops the sun. With a hat + sunglasses, I only need to protect cheeks/nose/chin. They I use something for lips. And eyes. It also helps to wear wrap-around sunglasses to prevent glare. And cover up that decolletage!

Patti Lee June 12, 2009 at 5:09 pm

wow - I didn’t know all this……gads, the life of sun screen isn;t very long indeed! And, allthat other info I didn;t know either. Thanks for such a great article………xoxo

Patti Lee’s last blog post..Asian Notes in Scallop Envelope Box

Sonja June 13, 2009 at 4:29 pm

❤ Leigh, sorry to hear that. That stinks. Perhaps the Lancome stuff is a chemical sunscreen (which absorbs rays) and the other stuff was a physical sunscreen (which deflects the rays) so the other stuff did better for you. Hope you find something better! I really like the more natural stuff. They do seem to be more gentle and still very effective.

There’s one other thing you should keep in mind. Are you spending a lot of time in the heat? I just learned that heat (whether from the sun or a hot shower or sauna) stimulates melanin production, which leads to more freckles and age spots. Total bummer!

❤ pam munro, all very good tips! I forgot to mention hat and sunglasses. I should go back and amend. I’m also very big on using makeup with sun protection to layer on more protection.

❤ Patti, so glad you found this helpful. I had kept sunscreens for years in the past and was wondering if that was a bad idea. Indeed it is!

Legally Blonde June 14, 2009 at 1:09 pm

The info in the post is right on! I adore the sun! Just love it - and yet I’ve had skin cancer many times. I found that my hair does NOT protect my head/scalp from the sun. It goes right through! Sometimes a hat makes you all sweaty so I use a product called Hair Shadz! For the price of 1 product, I get 3. It provides spf 15 protection for the scalp, covers up my roots - so I can go longer between appointments - and it works as a dry shampoo for when I’m on the go, at the gym, traveling, you know. The inventor’s mother died from scalp melanoma and she herself has helped many people get to a doctor because they can’t see their scalp. She’s a colorist too! Simple to use, just brush in on like a blush. There’s no residue and I can play outside. With protective clothing, skin care, and Hair Shadz I intend to hold off ageing as long as possible!
And you can purchase it at There’s a clear shade for kids and men.

Prêt-à-Porter P June 18, 2009 at 4:19 am

i have a darker ethnicity so i have a bit more of a built in spf. i feel facial sunscreens make my skin turn grey and pale.
.-= Prêt-à-Porter P´s last blog ..Vanishing Elephant =-.

Hannele June 18, 2009 at 9:06 am

I just wanted to say thank you for your awesome article!
I’ve wrote a post mentioning your article in the hopes to raise awareness.
I now use California Baby and Badger sunscreens instead of the toxic Neutrogena ones.
You rock!

Sonja June 20, 2009 at 5:25 pm

❤ Legally Blonde, thanks so much for the tip about Hair Shadz. Totally gotta try that!
❤ Prêt-à-Porter P, be sure to still use sunscreen. You definitely have more protection built into your skin but you can still develop skin cancer: “Skin cancer can develop in anyone, not only people with these risk factors. Young, healthy people — even those with with dark skin, hair, and eyes — can develop skin cancer.” (source:

The sunscreens with physical sunblocks like zinc oxide can definitely have a chalky look that’s quite obvious on a deeper skin tone. But it’s not the case with all of them. The Body Deli and Jurlique sunscreens are all-natural but don’t have any whitish cast. Not sure how they do that but they’re excellent that way. I need to go back and add that info to the article.
❤ Hannele, thanks so much for the kind words and for mentioning my article! So glad you found this helpful. :)

Taylor Price August 28, 2009 at 1:52 pm


This is a great article. Using a daily sunscreen never even crossed my mind until this year (turned 27) and I started to get worried about my major baking sessions and my years of playing waterpolo and swimming and (gasp) I never used sunscreen! Now that I am in my late twenties I am a lot more concious! This year I hardly even tan or never use tanning beds. Yuck! However, I love using self tanners! My girlfriend is in the middle of developing her own self tanner line and I tried it the other day and it was great. It was the only one I have ever used that did not smell weird. It smelled like a tropical island! Anyway, I am excited. It is so new that is doesn’t even have a name yet. I just think it is great that you are informing girls on how important this is! Thanks! xxTaylor
.-= Taylor Price ´s last blog ..Kate Moss for Topshop-AW09! =-.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: