As much as I love golden tans, I resist the urge to lie out in the sun to achieve that beautiful sunkissed look. If it isn’t completely natural (born skintone) or totally artificial (bronzer), then you are tempting fate each time you lay under those rays with no protection, be it outdoors or in a tanning bed. It helps that I abhor heat, so I have especially good skin which lends itself to a rather youthful appearance. Beyond my hatred of anything hot and sweaty other than sex, I have been using facial moisturizers with SPF in them since my late teens. It does not matter how much melanin you have, you should be wearing sunscreen to prevent cancer from developing. Regardless of your budget, there is a way to protect your beautiful skin and long term health at every price point.

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Photo by Evil Erin courtesy of Wikimedia/Creative Commons.

We’re going to get our Bill Nye on here for a second because if you are like me, it helps to know what the things are that you are fighting. Sunscreen and sunblock fight UVA and UVB rays. The easiest way to remember what the difference between UVA and UVB is would be to think of the “A” for “aging” and the “B” for “burning.” UVA penetrates your skin, surpassing the epidermis (what you see) and deeper into the dermis. UVA causes wrinkles, sunspots, and loss of elasticity. UVB only gets at the top layer of your skin and causes it to burn. Both UVA and UVB will mess you up, but UVB is the main cancer causing agent of the two, though it is thought that UVA can also lead to the generation of certain forms of cancer. Why do you need to know this? Aside from the fact that SCIENCE IS COOL and you do not want cancer, you need to make sure that the products that you choose combat BOTH of these instead of just protecting your top layer from burning.

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The next thing that you need to know is how to calculate the SPF that you need. Think of it this way: SPF # x the time it takes for you to burn without protection, or Burn Time = Time To Burn With Protection. Basically, you’re calculating how long you’ve got until that SPF that you have applied won’t save you from turning to bulgogi. Your average lighter skinned person will burn in ten to fifteen minutes of direct light. If you chose a low SPF of 15, you could calculate it as SPF 15 x 10 minutes = 150 minutes of protection. Since I have had blisters from sunburns before, I load up on the SPF. More will not hurt me, but less absolutely could – just be mindful to hydrate and stay in as much shade as possible if you buy yourself more time outdoors by using a higher SPF.

Now that you know what you are fighting and how you are fighting it, let’s talk products. I used to think that sunscreen and sunblock were interchangeable words, but it turns out that they are two different things. Sunscreen, the more common of the two, filters out the UV rays. Sunblock straight up prevents it from penetrating the skin with zinc oxide or titanium oxide. The best way to fight both UVA and UVB is to find a product that has SPF 30 or higher and is advertised as “broad spectrum,” “multi-spectrum,” or “UVA/UVB.” Read more about it from the Cancer Foundation right here.


Me, healthy skin at 31. Photo by Laurel Dickman.

While it is imperative that you have separate sunscreen, you might want to consider incorporating it into your beauty products. Layer up, because one usually is not sufficient in terms of actual SPF content. My personal favorite moisturizer that I have used since I was nineteen is Oil of Olay Completely All Day Moisturizer, which provides broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) coverage.  I slap that on as soon as I get out of the shower and then put on a BB cream with SPF in it, usually Pond’s Luminous BB Cream. Most of the time, I just use the moisturizer. I typically leave my skin naked unless it is a special occasion and I wish to contour and highlight a bit.

A good friend of mine and former esthetician, Zora Hayes, recommends starting with a natural, moisturizing sunscreen like Mychelle Sunshield Coconut Sunscreen. She then layers a base of Face Tone Controller SPF 30 by The Face Shop and tops it with Jane Iredale’s Pure Pressed Minerals SPF 20. That may seem like a lot of product, but it does not feel heavy and she has the skin of an eighteen year old. At night she uses an aloe-based toner to level her skin’s pH and promote healing for any rays that made it through that fortress.

For a product that is a bit less expensive than Jane Iredale, Zora recommends Bare Minerals. It’s half the price and works almost as well as the more expensive alternative. If that is still outside of your price range, there are drugstore alternatives. You can get Physicians Formula Mineral Wear makeup at drug stores. The Talc-Free Mineral Airbrushing Powder is a pressed powder that delivers SPF 30! Even less expensive than that is E.L.F., ringing in at a mere $6!

Preventative skin care is key for your health, as well as beauty. While we as a society place entirely too much emphasis on youth, it’s nice to remain as spotless and smooth as you can for as long as you can – especially if it means avoiding cancer!