10 Ways to Upgrade Your Sunscreen and Sun Care
Tips to keep your skin safe this summer
by Lois Joy Johnson, AARP, May 28, 2020
The freedom of a summer outdoors (while social distancing!) is here so get out the sunscreen. But let's be honest: Many women and men age 50-plus “forget” to apply sunscreen daily or just save it for the beach. Or they figure, “I'll just get some color this one time” or, “I could use some vitamin D” or, “My darker skin tone can handle it.” That's wrong and risky behavior, my friends. Around 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day and 1 in 5 will develop skin cancer by age 70. Scared? You should be! Here's how to relax and enjoy the balmy weather and sun safely:
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PHOTO BY: Target; Ulta Beauty (2)
1. Buy sunscreen you'll actually like to use
If your sunscreen sits unused on a bathroom shelf, wrinkles and skin cancer win. Don't let them. Sure, sunscreen used to be greasy, sticky and smell awful. It also interfered with makeup and stained our swimsuits. We even worried it would make us break out. That's over. The newest broad-spectrum formulas like Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen SPF 50 ($8, target.com), Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion Sunscreen SPF 30 ($13, ulta.com) and CeraVe Face Sheer Tint Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 30 ($16, ulta.com) absorb quickly, feel refreshing and work like luxury skin care, with antioxidants, emollients and humectants to enhance and soothe mature skin. Find one (or more) to fit your needs and preferences, then buy multiples. Make that sunscreen hard to ignore. Leave a tube or bottle out on the sink, another in your everyday bag, tote or car and a third near the door to your deck, yard or entrance hallway. Keep it as handy as a water bottle — or face mask. You won't regret it.
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PHOTO BY: georgeclerk/E+/Getty Images
2. Make sure it's a broad-spectrum SPF 30+
No sunscreen blocks 100 percent of the sun's rays but be smart about the SPF number you choose. Lower than SPF 30 isn't enough, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, though the Skin Cancer Foundation has OK'd SPF 15 for everyday occasional exposure, like when walking the dog. Here's the truth: An SPF 15 protects against 93 percent of UVA and UVB rays and SPF 30 protects against 97 percent, while an SPF 50 protects against about 98 percent. SPF 30 is a safe choice for our increased sun exposure in summer; however, if SPF 50 or 70 makes you feel safer — and for those of us who burn easily or have a history of skin cancer it probably does — go for it.
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PHOTO BY: Ulta Beauty; Dermstore; SkinStore
3. Check ingredients mindfully
You'll see more mineral sunscreens this year than ever. That's because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates sunscreen, is proposing major changes to sunscreen formulas. So far, it's decreed safe mineral sunscreens that deflect UV rays with the ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The FDA still is evaluating chemical sunscreens that absorb UV rays with ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate and octisalate. The big question is to what extent your skin absorbs these chemicals and what if any effect they have on your skin and body. Until the FDA reaches a conclusion, continue using whatever formula — mineral or chemical makes you happy. Worried zinc oxide will give your skin a chalky cast or look heavy? Updated formulas from drugstore brands like Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 50 ($16, ulta.com) to medical-grade brands like Revision Skincare Intellishade Original SPF 45 ($75, dermstore.com) and EltaMD UV Shield SPF 45 ($25, skinstore.com) are undetectable but effective on every skin tone and the most sensitive complexions — even those with rosacea and precancerous lesions.
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PHOTO BY: CVS (3)
4. Choose a format and texture that make sense
Lotions are your best basic choice for protecting face and body because you can control the coverage. Moisturizing formulas like Hawaiian Tropic Antioxidant + Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 ($13, cvs.com), Coppertone Defend & Care Ultra Hydrate Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50 ($12, cvs.com) and Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Lotion Sunscreen With SPF 50 for Face ($12, cvs.com) are soothing to mature skin. Love the speed of a spray? Save these water-resistant formulas (waterproof is no longer a permissible label) for swimming and sweaty sports when you need to cover large body areas like your back and legs. Be sure to spray the skin thoroughly till it glistens before rubbing the mist in with your hands. Never spray your face. Instead mist your palms and blend that over your face and ears (avoid the eyes and mouth). Note that aerosol sunscreens are flammable so avoid using them near an open flame (like when making s'mores on the beach), a lit candle or a barbecue grill.
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PHOTO BY: Kittiphan Teerawattanakul/EyeEm/Getty Images
5. Apply enough and don't forget your ears
You need more sunscreen than you think. Adults should count on using a shot-glass-size glob for the body (more if you're generously proportioned or tall) and a teaspoon amount for the face. Remember the “face” in daily sunscreen terms includes your neck, ears and upper chest (if you're wearing a low-neck tee or dress). The body includes the backs of your hands and fingers and feet if you're wearing sandals. The most crucial part is the reapplication — every two hours when you're in the sun. The big mistake we make is thinking higher SPF doesn't require this. It certainly does.
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PHOTO BY: Target; CVS (2); Walgreens (2)
6. Know when sharing is fine
Sunscreens designed for babies and kids, like Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Zinc Oxide Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 ($11, target.com), Thinkbaby SAFE Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($14, cvs.com) and Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Tear Free Mineral-Based Water Resistant Lotion SPF 50 ($13, cvs.com), contain titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide rather than chemicals and a secure SPF 50+. They're fine for us, too, so share with your grandkids. However, while our liquid mineral sunscreens can work in a pinch for children and babies over 6 months old don't use chemical sunscreens on the kids. Sprays like Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil Free Body Sunscreen Spray SPF 70 ($9, walgreens.com) and Banana Boat Sun Comfort Clear Sunscreen Spray SPF 50 ($11, walgreens.com) are fine to share among adult family members or friends (you can mist one another and then each rub in your own) but check my tips in No. 4. They still must be reapplied every 40 to 80 minutes when you're in the water or actively sweating (like playing golf or bicycling), every two hours when not. Be generous and remind one another.
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PHOTO BY: Dermstore; Sephora; Ulta Beauty; Target
7. Get an SPF 30+ in a sunscreen, a makeup and a moisturizer
Each SPF is different. One of each makes handling the sun issue in a variety of situations simple. Note that layering beauty products with an SPF doesn't mean you get increased protection — you get renewed protection. Many women now start a busy day with a moisturizer that contains an SPF 30 sunscreen because it makes a good primer for makeup on “mostly indoors” days. And that's that. But, be advised, any SPF product applied at 8 a.m. (even a real sunscreen) isn't providing protection by lunchtime. That's when you can rely on a sunscreen powder whisked on over makeup to reboot the protection. While it's not your primary sunscreen, touch-up powders come in self-dispensing brushes, like Paula's Choice On-the-Go Shielding Powder SPF 30 ($29, dermstore.com), Supergoop! Invincible Setting Powder SPF 45 ($30, sephora.com) and Derma-E Sun Protection Mineral Powder SPF 30 ($22, ulta.com), and compacts like Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Mineral Airbrushing Pressed Powder SPF 30 ($13, target.com) help absorb excess oil. The serious sunscreen is for longer days or chunks of time outside — an outdoor concert, an afternoon in the park, a day boating — or whenever you're wearing a swimsuit.
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Walmart (2)
8. Remember your tender lips
The lips are a very vulnerable spot for sunburn and skin cancer and a place we — both men and women — often overlook. Everyone should add a lip balm with an SPF 30, like Sun Bum Watermelon Lip Balm SPF 30 ($4, target.com), O'Keefe's Lip Repair With SPF 35 Stick ($4, target.com), Banana Boat Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 45, Aloe Vera & Vitamin E ($3, walmart.com) or Blistex Five Star Lip Protection Balm SPF 30 ($3, walmart.com), to their daily routine and reapply it frequently. Mature lip skin is thin and dry so look for sticks with moisturizing humectants like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and aloe vera and emollients like shea butter and petrolatum that lock moisture in. Plain old lipstick minus an SPF is fine, but it isn't enough for serious sun exposure. Try layering it over a balm for the most effective protection.
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PHOTO BY: jenoche/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
9. Keep reapplying
No one is immune. UV rays penetrate all skin tones from light to dark and a “tan” (real or fake) is no protection. The sun's rays break down the formula, as do water and sweat. If you're in the sun, a redo every two hours is mandatory. If you sit or work in front of a window or drive a car, that glass protects against a burn but not against the UVA rays (it is why some of us have more lines and wrinkles on the left side of our faces!). And I can't stress this enough: Slather your hands and neck every single day.
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PHOTO BY: Old Navy; Target (2); Lilly Pulitzer; Coolibar; Lands' End
10. Get extra protection from clothing and accessories
Sunscreen alone isn't enough anymore. And if you believe throwing on an everyday white T-shirt is saving your cleavage, think again. (It only has SPF 5.) The thinner, tighter and lighter the clothing, the less sun-screening ability. If regular clothes are all that you have, opt for brighter or darker colors that absorb UV rays better and densely woven fabrics or synthetics in a loose, relaxed fit. Get more protection by adding a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) top or cover-up. These specialty fabrics are the clothing equivalent of SPF. A moisture-wicking rash guard that can handle a swim, like the Lands’ End Women's Crew Neck Long Sleeve Rash Guard UPF 50 ($50, landsend.com), Old Navy Mock-Neck Rashguard Long-Sleeve Swim Top for Women in Ebony UPF 40 ($20, oldnavy.com) and a dry-land shirt or sundress like the Lilly Pulitzer Skipper Popover ($98, lillypulitzer.com) and Coolibar Women's Navia Cover-Up UPF 50+ ($89, coolibar.com) can boost peace of mind when you've had enough exposure. Eyelids and neck are prime areas for skin cancer so be sure to add a pair of sunglasses with UV-protection lenses (Beware: Some cheap stylish versions are only tinted not protective!) and a broad-brimmed hat (not a baseball cap) like the A New Day Women's Bucket Hat in Tan ($17, target.com) or Universal Thread Women's Straw Rancher Hat ($20, target.com) and you're made in the shade.