Seeking Summer Skin Part Deux: Sunscreen Review

Once I embarked on my search for clearer, better-looking skin via a chemical peel I started thinking seriously about sunscreen. (As opposed to all of the lighthearted, frivolous thinking I normally do.) If you don't wear sunscreen every single day in Houston--all year round--you qualify as crazy in my book. I go through jars and tubes and bottles of the stuff, never mind the extra SPF I look for in lip balms, BB creams, and other cosmetics. I buy the super-popular Sephora Sun Safety kit every single year.

There was a time when I wasn't quite so obsessed with sunscreen--it coincides with the 32 years in which I didn't live quite so close to the equator--but it only took one line in one online article to change my mind. The author was discussing how she rarely used sunscreen because she was inside most of the day, until she added up all the minutes she spent walking to and from the car and walking the dog. As I read the article I glanced at the big old dog sleeping at my feet and did similar math--and went right to CVS to stock up on sunscreen.

I haven't gone without since.

The Basics

SPF stands for "sun protection factor" and the number on the bottle communicates the ability of the sunscreen to block the sun's rays. According to the American Melanoma Foundation, the protection is not proportional with regard to the SPF number:

Consumers need to be aware that SPF protection does not increase proportionally with an increased SPF number. While an SPF of 2 will absorb 50% of ultraviolet radiation, an SPF of 15 absorbs 93% and an SPF of 34 absorbs 97%.

Protection against both UVA and UVB rays is ideal, and most sunscreens on the market do so, however at this time the FDA only rates UVA protection which is what the number on the bottle indicates.

While people use the words "sunscreen" and "sunblock" interchangeably, there is a difference. Chemical sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb and/or reflect the sun's rays, while sunblocks contain physical ingredients (titanium dioxide, zinc oxide) that form a protective barrier between your skin and the sun, reflecting UVB light away.

Building Protection

If you get into the habit of applying a body lotion and a face lotion with sunscreen, you can probably stop there unless you work outside. SPF 15 is the recommended minimum protection, and you can find a wide variety of drugstore brands for both products. For us office drones, this should be enough to keep you safe as you walk to and from your car, or run home to let the dog out on your lunch hour. If you would like a little more protection, look for SPF 20, 25, or 30.

For Your Bod

Lubriderm Daily Moisture with SPF 15: You're moisturizing as soon as you get out of the shower anyway, right? (RIGHT?) So why not just go with a lotion with built-in SPF so you don't even have to think about it? • L'Oreal Paris Sublime Sunscreen: Another drugstore brand, this line is new from L'Oreal this year. The Sublime line includes spray-on oils, traditional lotions, a spray-on "Crystal Clear mist," and a "Feather Light Foaming Lotion. All formulas retail for less than $12, and the packaging is muchnicer than most drugstore brands. • Kiehl's Vital Sun Protection, SPF 30 or SPF 40: The SPF 40 option is formulated specially for children, and is water resistant up to 80 minutes; the SPF 30 boasts the same water resistance, but is recommended for adults. Both formulas are $19.50 for 5 fl. oz.

For Your Face

Cetaphil: Cetaphil is my go-to drugstore brand for lotions, cleansers, and sunscreens. When my skin freaks out from trying something new, or adding a harsh product to my regime, I always return to Cetaphil. They have facial sunscreens with SPF 15, 30, and 50, and I find they all work well under makeup. • Aveeno Positively Radiant Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30 ($17.99): Aveeno products are a good value for the dollar, easy to find (drugstores and grocery stores), and the popular Positively Radiant line has expanded into a good quality drugstore staple. • Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector Broad Spectrum SPF 42 for Face ($30, Sephora): Works great under makeup, and without that unpleasant "sunscreen smell." It's a very light, sheer fluid--keep your jokes to yourself.

Sunscreens for Long-Term Exposure

Okay, so how about some sunscreens for The Sweaty Times? You golf, you swim, you run, you ride your unicycle to work--these require something a little more heavy-duty than SPF 15 Lubriderm moisturizer.

Neutrogena Anything: The Beach Strength line is specially formulated for, um, beaches; the Ultra Sheer line offers high-SPF protection with a very lightweight feel; the new Wet Skin line is specially designed for use on wet skin (great for kids, swimmers); the Fresh Cooling line cools skin on contact (HI, HOUSTON); Age Shield has anti-aging properties ... AND SO ON. Neutrogena, you have thought of everything, and you offer each line in a variety of formulas and delivery systems, and they are drugstore-available and reasonably priced, and your SPF ranges zoom right up to 70 and 100+. Love you.

While I don't recommend you Google "skin cancer" and spend an hour with your jaw hanging open as you view horrifying images that will make you cry, and then another two hours standing naked in front of your full-length mirror, reviewing each mole with a hand mirror and magnifying glass, I do urge you to read up on Skin Cancer online at the American Cancer Society and The Skin Cancer Society. Prevent and detect, kids.

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Christina Uticone