Sun care advice from my two grandmothers

As I look forward to my last weekend at the beach this coming weekend, I cannot but help to think about my two grandmothers, one from an Italian farming family, the other from a Swiss-German pastor family. They did not agree on many things, but they did agree on one thing: a suntan is inelegant, and a sunburn is downright offensive. Between them and my dermatologist father, with whom I have never been in so much trouble as when I sunburn my skin, I like to think I have perfected the idea of practicing “safe sun.” While this is something to think about daily, including in the dead of winter and on rainy days, it is particularly important during vacation season. If you are heading to the beach, the pool, on a boat, for one last weekend of summer, keep this in mind:

  1. The safest way to be in the sun is not to be in the sun. In particular in between the hours of 11 and 3 pm, stay in the shade. You will still get some color, I promise. If you hate the shade, consider wearing a hat, to shade your face…
  2. Use sunscreen! Even if you are planning to be in the shade all day, sunscreen is key. A body oil with SPF 2 does not count as sunscreen… UVA and UVBs are both harmful to the skin, so make sure your sunscreen says “broad-spectrum” (the SPF value only refers to protection from UVB). Keep in mind that SPF 30, which my father recommends for “beach vacation days” will protect you from 97% of UVB. A higher SPF will increase the protection only by one percentage point: SPF 50 will increase it to 98, and SPF 75 to 99%.
  3. Apply sunscreen liberally. Don’t think of it as applying your moisturizer or foundation – be generous, err on too much rather than not enough. The general rule of thumb is a shot-glass worth of product for an “average-sized” body.
  4. Re-apply after every time you get in the water. There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen; the FDA does recognize the term “water-resistant,” so look for that word when making your purchase, and reapply.
  5. Purchase new sunscreen annually, at the very least. While you may not need a new bathing suit before every summer vacation, be vigilant about the expiration dates on sunscreens. The formulations are delicate, and do break down – an expired sunscreen will not provide the protection claimed on the bottle.
  6. Remember the ears, back of the neck, and top of the feet (where I have gotten some of my worse sunburns). Ideally, apply your sunscreen before you put on your bathing suit, to avoid getting a burn right around where your bathing suit meets your skin.

There are lots of great sunscreens out there, I tend to find a favorite one every summer. This summer, my go-to has been by LaRoche Posay XL 50+ Sunscreen Oil, which is super easy to apply, works on face and body, and has a delightful aroma. And remember, no sunscreen is 100%. This means using an antioxidant product is key, both layered under your sunscreen and as a post-sun product, so that you instantly repair any free radical damage caused. Once again, there are many great antioxidant products on the market, my current favorite being the newest baby in the Alchimie Forever family, our Daily Defense Cream SPF23. As a first layer of protection, it is packed with antioxidants including blueberries, vitamins C and E, and edelweiss extract, and also has some chemical filters to help fight UVAs and UVBs.

Lastly, remember, you earn the skin you’re in! Protect it, practice “safe sun,” and your skin will thank you.