10 Ways to Stay Safe and Stylish Under the Sun
Keep your cool with sun hats, SPF, protective sunglasses and more
by Lois Joy Johnson, AARP, May 26, 2022
Summer is a constant quest to do the right thing. We always have questions. Do I also need sunscreen if my CC cream has SPF? Are UPF rash guards a gimmick or a must-have? Is the sun frying my hair ... or is it my flat iron? Neither Siri, social media nor a crystal ball will be much help. There’s simply too much info out there, and much of it is contradictory, skimpy on the what-to-do-about-it part or so youth-oriented it has no relevance to life at 50. No worries. Here are 10 tips for hot times in one neat cheat sheet.
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PHOTO BY: Athleta; Lands' End; L.L.Bean
1. Add some sun-protective clothing
You’ve probably been eyeing UPF-rated clothing and wondering who wears it. The answer should be: you! The UPF (short for ultraviolet protection factor) label means you’re wearing a sunscreen barrier imbedded in the fibers of your clothing. Unlike cream, lotion and spray-on sunscreens with SPF, it won’t wear off or require reapplication during the day. While no one needs a full wardrobe of these screeners, a few strategic pieces that work on their own or right over a tank top or swimsuit are a smart buy. Skip the shorts, skorts and sleeveless anything, and head for a long-sleeve top like the Lands’ End Women’s Plus Size Crew Neck Long Sleeve Rash Guard UPF 50 in White/Deep Sea Stripe ($60, landsend.com); a dress like the Athleta Urbanite Dress in Black, Quartz Pink or Vineyard Green ($149, athleta.gap.com), which will be so useful for sightseeing, cruises and resorts; and a tunic like the the L.L.Bean Women’s Sand Beach Cover-Up, Hooded Tunic in Beach Glass, Deepwater Blue or White ($79, llbean.com) as a cover-up or pants topper.
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PHOTO BY: Walmart; Foster Grant; Madewell
2. Choose sunglasses with UV-protected lenses
We love a bargain. Still, don’t get duped by cool-looking, low-cost shades that are dead ringers for pricey designer frames but skip out on screening UV rays. They may look great but won’t protect your vulnerable eyes from macular degeneration or the lids and skin around your peepers from skin cancer. Some sunglasses don’t say whether they have UV protection ... assume they don’t. Others glasses don’t specify the degree of protection. You want 99 to 100 percent UVA- and UVB-protected lenses, sometimes also listed as UV 400. Deciding between blue lenses or gray? Go with the gray since green, gray or brown tints reduce glare and color distortion best.
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PHOTO BY: Dermstore; Target; CVS; Target
3. Choose the sunscreen you’ll actually use
Sorry, but scrimping on sunscreen application for one reason or another is where we miss the safety boat. We say it feels too greasy or tacky, messes with our makeup, leaves a weird film or causes us to break out (yes, even at 50!). Start over and focus on “feel-good” words such as clear, sheer, glow or hydrating on the package, and then look for extra ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, ceramides and antioxidant vitamins that benefit mature skin. When choosing between mineral and chemical formulas, know that mineral sunscreens — like Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum Cream SPF 46 ($39, dermstore.com) or Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Face Liquid Drops SPF 50 ($14, target.com) — sit on the skin as a barrier and deflect UV rays. They’re light, sheer and a good choice for those with sensitive skin, rosacea or eczema. Chemical formulas, such as Eucerin Age Defense Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 ($18, cvs.com) or Sun Bum Glow Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 ($16, target.com), absorb UV rays and are a good choice for dry or combo skin. Both mineral and chemical sunscreens work like a charm. The important thing is to find an SPF 30+ that you’ll really use without fail.
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PHOTO BY: Ulta Beauty (2); Target; Dermstore
4. When to apply sunscreen in addition to SPF-infused makeup
The cosmetic industry has added higher SPFs to new makeup formulas. In fact, many women have started using daily tinted moisturizers and CC creams with SPF 30+ instead of applying a separate sunscreen. That’s great if you’re truly going to be mostly indoors all day, but since makeup is applied more sheerly than actual sunscreen keep that in mind and don’t just apply a heavier coat. A CC cream like the IT Cosmetics CC+ Nude Glow Lightweight Foundation + Glow Serum SPF 40 ($42, ulta.com) or Dermablend Continuous Correction CC Cream SPF 50+ ($39, ulta.com) unlike lower SPF makeups does provide a trifecta of hydration, coverage and high SPF protection. Your makeup will last beautifully. If, however, you end up hitting an outdoor cafe for lunch, going to an outdoor mall or catching a ball game, then be sure to add a sunscreen touch-up like the Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Skin Nourishing Sunscreen Powder Brush SPF 30 ($17, target.com) or Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50 ($69, dermstore.com).
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Ulta Beauty; CVS
5. Be wary of windows, clouds and shade
It’s easy to sit under an awning, take a walk on a misty day or drive to visit the kids with the A/C blasting and feel safe from the sun. You’re not. Glass windows in cars (sides, back and sunroof included), on planes and buses and at homes may protect you fairly well from sunburn but leave you vulnerable to UVA rays — the ones that cause wrinkles and skin cancer. You still need sunscreen in all the above situations, as well as reapplications of it, too. Make sure you get ears, neck and hands in addition to your face — the spots most visible in these situations — and wear an SPF 30 lip balm. Sunscreen sticks like the Neutrogena Mineral Ultra Sheer Face and Body Sunscreen Stick SPF 50 ($13, target.com) or CeraVe Sunscreen Stick SPF 50 ($10, target.com) and lip balms like the Coola Organic Liplux Classic Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 30 ($10, ulta.com) or Aquaphor Lip Repair Stick + Sunscreen SPF 30 ($10 for two-pack, cvs.com) are perfect travel-size sunscreens and stowaways for pockets and handbags.
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PHOTO BY: Gap; Chico's; LOFT
6. Wear breathable fabrics
You don’t need UPF-protected clothing for everyday wear, but you do need clothes that allow sweat to evaporate and keep you cool and feeling fresh. Your best bets are cotton and cotton jersey knits like the Gap Crinkle Gauze Boatneck Button-Front Top in Phoebe Pink, Poolside Blue or New Off-White ($60, gap.com); linen like the Chico’s Notch Neck Linen Tunic in Amparo Blue ($70, chicos.com); chambray like the Loft Emory Taper Pants in Chambray ($70, loft.com), which gives a denim look but feels lighter; and seersucker. Stay away from nylon, acrylic and polyester, anything tight with spandex, and even so-called “lite” faux leather. All trap heat, moisture and body odors. And here’s a protection tip: Apply body sunscreen before you dress and let it dry a couple of minutes. If you dress first and try to work around the edges, you’ll inevitably end up with stains.
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PHOTO BY: Zappos (2); SwimOutlet; Amazon
7. Keep feet healthy in sandals
It’s our chance to walk barefoot, do our pool exercises, kick back on the boardwalk and show off a pedicure at the pool. But then again, there’s the scalding sand that burns our soles (not to mention hidden bits of rock, shards of glass and plastic, sharp shells), as well as the super unhygienic locker and restroom floors that are a breeding ground for germs and athlete’s foot. So remember to slather sunscreen on your feet — ankles, toes, between toes, tops of feet (even bottoms if you flip over for a snooze in the sun). Wear supportive sandals with thick contoured soles and mesh uppers — like the Skechers Arch Fit – City Catch in Mocha ($70, zappos.com) or Comfortiva Chelsea Sandals in Black ($100, zappos.com) — instead of flimsy flip-flops. Keep them on in wet common areas like locker and restrooms, beachside bars and restaurants. Try aqua shoes like the Easy USA Women’s Mesh Top Water Shoes in Neon Orange or Neon Blue ($20, swimoutlet.com) or Vifuur Water Sports Shoes in Black, Blackstripes or White ($16, amazon.com) for scratchy pool/lake/ocean bottoms.
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PHOTO BY: Target; Speedo; Target
8. Protect your scalp and hair
Sun, chlorine and saltwater are a dangerous trio for hair. If yours is dry, frizz-prone or weak/damaged from chemical treatments in May, by the end of August it can feel like straw. Take a break from hot tools or at least cut back and let hair air-dry often using decorative scrunchies and hairbands as stylers. Be sure to wear a stretchy silicone swim cap like the Speedo Elastomeric Printed Cap in Multi ($15, us.speedo.com) for serious swimming, especially if you color your hair. Keep hair hydrated and conditioned with leave-ins like the It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In Conditioner with Keratin ($20, target.com) or the Sun Bum Curls and Waves Hair Detangler ($14, target.com). A thorough spritz before slipping on that swim cap or hitting the beach is one of the best ways to counteract the drying effects and protect your scalp and hair.
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PHOTO BY: Urban Outfitters; Amazon; San Diego Hat Company
9. Buy a wider-brimmed sun hat
We all have a stack of baseball caps — because let’s face it, they’re part of our national summer uniform. We wear them on bad hair days, to dash to the grocery and for any occasion under the sun. But they don’t do a great job of protecting our faces, and do nothing for our neck and ears. Then there are fedoras and big floppy straws. While they provide more coverage, they are hard for many women to wear and can feel like a costume. However, updated bucket hats with down-turned wider brims of four to six inches not only fully shield all but have a casual, cool style that looks great with everything from a tee and capri pants to a flowy dress. Try an extended bucket in “straw” like the Urban Outfitters Rivera Structured Raffia Hat ($39, urbanoutfitters.com), the San Diego Hat Company Women’s Styleable Multi Way Paperbraid Sun Hat in Natural ($42, sandiegohat.com) or a UV-protected fabric like the Comhats Summer UPF 50+ Sun Hats for Women in Navy ($19, amazon.com).
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PHOTO BY: Target; Ulta Beauty; Kinfield
10. Soothe a sunburn or heat rash pronto
Prickly heat isn’t just for babies. This red rash, often characterized by tiny blisters, shows up on mature skin in folds — like armpits, elbows, breasts and groin — or even on the face or neck on hot, sweaty, humid days. Sunburn also gets to us, especially those who skip sunscreen, neglect to reapply on time or fall asleep in the sun. Both cases require immediate cooling. Move to a breezy or ventilated spot out of the sun — preferably in front of a fan or somewhere air-conditioned indoors. Take a cool shower or bath to bring down your body temperature, and use an aloe-based shower gel like the Raw Sugar Green Tea + Cucumber + Aloe Vera Sensitive Skin Simply Body Wash ($8, target.com). To reduce redness, follow with a healing aloe lotion like the Earth Therapeutics 95% Aloe Vera Soothing Gel ($15, ulta.com) or a spray-on like the Kinfield Cooling Aloe Mist Sunday Spray ($22, anthropologie.com). Avoid heavy creams, oils and ointments, and drink lots of extra water to restore hydration.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.