We’ve spent half the year longing for — no, make that lusting for — sunny summer days, and they’re finally, blessedly, upon us. But as glorious as they may feel, those UV rays can be punishing, reminding us that we need to be on guard for ourselves and our families around the clock. To help ensure we’re sunning as safely as possible, we asked Dr. Meyer Horn, Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine and Medical Director of Dermatology and Aesthetics in Chicago, for his top tips.
1. Do Your Research
There are two categories of sunscreens to consider: chemical and mineral. “Chemical sunscreens contain safe, compounded chemicals that absorb harmful rays of sun before they can cause any damage, whereas mineral sunscreens are comprised of either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which provide protection by reflecting the sun,” he says. If you have the option, reach for mineral. “Not only are they more popular for kids and babies, but they’re said to be better for beaches and marine life, unlike some recent findings with chemical sunscreens,” he says.
2. Think 30
Horn suggests an SPF of 30, explaining that (perhaps surprisingly) there’s no need to go much higher than that. “Anything above 30 will offer a nominal difference in protection,” he says.
3. Apply Like a Pro
If you have the tendency to slather on half a tube of sunscreen in one sitting, relax — you can protect your entire body with the amount you’d need to fill a shot glass. The key? “Be sure to reapply every 60 to 90 minutes,” says Horn.
4. Be All-Inclusive
“Don’t forget about the tops of your feet and the backs of your hands,” he says. “Women are, in general, good about remembering to apply sunscreen to their face and neck, but they often forget their chest, which is an issue because it ends up seeing a lot of premature damage that outages their face.”
5. Spray Sparingly
Mists may be convenient, but they aren’t the best defense against sun damage. “If you use a spray, you have to apply it close to your body and then massage it into the skin,” says Horn, who prefers lotions for the fact that they’re easier to apply without missing any spots. “I tell patients to use sprays if they want to have something for a quick reapplication during a day outside, but to do a base coat of lotion first.”
6. Shop Smarter
Hate applying sunscreen? It’s OK — Horn does, too, which is why he’s so passionate about sun protective clothing. “When you wear it, you shrink the area you have to worry about covering up with sunscreen,” he says. “It’s a great solution for kids, especially knowing that early sun exposure and sunburn is linked with an increased melanoma cancer risk later in life. And for men with thinning hair or women with prominent parts, I always recommend hats.”
7. There’s No Such Thing as a “Healthy Tan”
“I have plenty of patients come in tan from a week away who will say, ‘But it’s fine — I wore sunscreen the entire time.’ The truth is, though, there really is no such thing as a healthy tan, unless you’re getting a spray tan or a tan from a bottle,” says Horn. “When your skin changes color, it’s your body’s reaction to protecting its DNA from damage from the sun. If you do tan, it means you’re sustaining enough damage to cause such results.”
Save yourself from the stress of the sunscreen aisle (seriously, why are there so many options?!) by zeroing in on one of these derm-approved brands.
“This line has a great array of paraben-free, zinc oxide-containing products, which used to only be available in doctors’ offices,” says Horn. “Their facial and body sunscreens are more cosmetically elegant than most other products that contain zinc oxide because their zinc is micronized, meaning it doesn’t look white and pasty.”
Buy it: EltaMD UV Facial Broad-Spectrum SPF 30+, $26
“In my opinion, this is the most protective product on the market — it’s my ‘trapped on a desert island with no shade’ sunscreen,” says Horn. They make an adult version and kids’ version, both of which provide very high levels of sun protection. The kids’ version contains high levels of zinc and titanium, so it’s very pasty and white — which makes it easy for new parents to know when it’s time to reapply.”
Buy it: Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Kids, $29
“If you’ve had skin cancer or have very fair skin and an extensive history of sunburn, tanning bed use, or sun damage, this is for you,” says Horn. “Its ingredients not only protect against sunburn but also help to repair DNA damage from previous sunburns — so it may be reducing your risk for skin cancer in that respect, too.”
Buy it: ISDIN Actinic Care Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+, $50
More from Make It Better:
- 7 Summer Hair Problems — Solved!
- How to Get Fit Outdoors: 8 Open-Air Workouts That Celebrate Summer
- How to Make Sure Your Family Has the Skills to Be Safe in the Water
Nicole Schnitzler is a freelance writer who covers food, drink, travel, and lifestyle. When she is not planning her next adventure, she can be found commuting between bakeries, yoga classes, live music shows, and libraries in her hometown of Chicago. She is most comfortable with a pen in one hand and a fork in the other. Nicole is also the founder of Doors Open Dishes, an initiative committed to keeping the doors open to the group homes and workshops of individuals with special needs by partnering with chefs and restaurants across the city. Follow her on Twitter (@Write_To_Eat) or on Instagram (@WriteToEat).