Skin cancer runs in my family. While many people spend their time outside tanning and soaking up the sun’s rays, I do everything I can to protect my skin. It can feel like a futile battle if you live somewhere sunny and all of your favorite hobbies take place in the sunshine. But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, your risk for melanoma doubles if you’ve had more than five sunburns.
With so many hours spent outdoors, these are the few products I love and strategies I use to stay sun safe.
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What are UVA and UVB rays?
The sunlight that reaches our skin is made from UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays penetrate the surface layer of our skin while UVA rays reach the deeper layers of our dermis. UVA rays cause our skin to tan. The skin darkens to protect against further sun damage. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn and skin cancers that form on the outer layer of our skin. UVB rays tend to be strongest between 10 am and 2 pm — so I avoid doing a lot of outdoor activity during these hours. It takes just 10 minutes on average for skin to burn.
There are apps like the SunSmart App for Australians or the UVLens App for Americans that tell you how severe the UVB rays are that day. When I lived in Australia, my dad often texted me the UV index of the day as a warning. These apps aren’t reliable in more remote places or destinations with microclimates, but are very useful if you live in a developed area with reliable weather forecasts.
SPF and UPF Simplified
There are a lot of misunderstandings and myths surrounding SPF (sun protection factor), the measurement that’s used to describe how long and how well your skin will be protected from the sun. SPF is used for sunscreen while UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) is used for fabrics. SPF typically only protects against UVB rays unless it states “Broad Spectrum” on the label.
SPF/UPF ratings are not linear. A SPF 50 sunscreen is not twice as good as a SPF 25 sunscreen. A SPF/UPF rating of 25 blocks 96% of UV rays. A SPF/UPF rating of 50 blocks 98% of UV rays. SPF/UPF ratings past 50 are a marketing gimmick and do not protect any better than a SPF/UPF 50. Always wear a sunscreen that’s rated SPF 25 or higher.
Not all fabrics protect your skin from the sun. I was surprised to learn that a white cotton T-shirt only has a UPF rating of 7. Meanwhile, many darker fabrics that are tightly woven have a UPF rating of 50+. If the fabric gets stretched or wet, the UPF rating decreases. When you’re choosing a rashguard or protective shirt, pick one that is rated UPF 30 or higher. You can add Sun Guard to your laundry to increase its UPF rating.
Face and Eye Protection
My favorite sunglasses are made by SunGod. You can customize the frame color, lenses, and choose between polarized and non-polarized lenses. I was surprised to learn that they have a lifetime warranty. Most of my sunglasses unfortunately have a short lifespan – especially if I’m traveling often.
The lenses have 100% UV protection, are impact and scratch resistant, and have an anti-reflective inner lens coating. The frame is very flexible and lightweight.
I chose black frames with blue, polarized lenses for no other reason than they simply look badass. On the SunGod website, you can view an image through the different lenses. I originally opted for the pink lenses but switched them to the blue after feeling that the pink lenses wouldn’t be tinted enough for tropical sunshine. The lenses are interchangeable.
SunGod Classics2 sunglasses fit and feel a lot like Oakley FrogSkins but are more affordable, customizable, and come with a better warranty.
Hat – Wide-Brim
A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your face, ears, and neck from damaging rays. If I’m lounging at a local beach, I love wearing a wide-brim felt hat like this one by Brixton. If I’m on the road, I’d rather wear something that can be packed away like a mesh wide-brim hat with a chin strap.
Hat – Mesh Cap
Whenever I’m active, I opt for a simple ball cap with mesh. The trucker hat isn’t always in style, but I hate overheating and feeling sweaty in a fabric hat. Plus, the mesh is much easier to clean.
To protect my skin, I first apply a layer of mineral sunscreen (like All Good if I’m in the water) and then a layer of zinc on top of it.
Avasol: I’ve just started using Avasol and I love how easy it is to apply zinc using the Surfer’s Barrier Stick. You can choose between different tints and SPF ratings. The product is made from a small company in Santa Barbara, and they offer plastic-free packaging or and refillable containers. This brand is becoming so popular among my outdoor friends. I can easily see why.
Surf Butter Co.: This surf butter is handmade in Western Australia and a little goes a long way on your skin. I’ve never been burned while wearing Surf Butter and it is so water resistant. If I’m worried that I won’t get a chance to reapply in over an hour or two, this is what I’ll put on.
With so many smaller companies coming out with great sunscreen products, I rarely reach for big name brands these days. Neutrogena sunscreen stings my eyes and many of the other bigger brands are filled with all types of unnecessary crap. It takes just a few ingredients to create an effective sunscreen — why opt for junk when so many smaller brands are doing it better?
I’d rather throw on a rashguard or leggings if I know I’ll be out in the water for more than an hour or two. This saves on the cost of sunscreen and I don’t have to stress about reapplying or wondering if I missed a spot.
A surfsuit, or long-sleeved one piece, is my favorite thing to wear in the water. You don’t have to worry about getting a “bacon strip” burn on your lower back like you would with a rashguard or stress about mooning the lineup after a duck dive. If I were to pack just one bathing suit on a trip, this would probably be it.
Rashguards are my go-to for everyday activities like swimming, boating, or hanging out at the beach. I like rashguards with a zipper for how they look but I avoid surfing in them. Surf wax tends to get stuck in the zipper teeth and the zipper digs into my chest.
Leggings are another staple for sun protection and looks fresh when paired with a nice bikini top or crop top rashguard.
Waterlust makes UPF 50+ leggings from recycled bottles. Every diver will fall in love with their whale shark, tiger shark, and coral prints. Rip Curl also has a few fun surf leggings available that double as yoga pants.
If I’m traveling to and from or hanging out on the boat, I love throwing on the Patagonia Sunshade Hoody. At first, I was put off by the elastic-lined hood – but it’s so handy and helps keep your hat in place. This material is thick enough to protect you without making you overheat. I loved mine so much, I got Mo a men’s version for Christmas. You can find these tops in the fishing clothing or boating section at many outdoor stores.
I always wear reef-safe sunscreen (without oxybenzone/avobenzone) whenever I go outside (read the full write-up of my favorites on this post about reef-safe sunscreen). Ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Choose one that has non-nano titanium dioxide/zinc oxide listed as the main active ingredient and is rated SPF 25 or higher. I like All Good, Stream2Sea, and Australian Gold Botanical.
How do you stay safe from the sun?
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