Here we are, out and about in tank tops and the season’s very best shorts, and we’ve run out of our summer staple: sunscreen. Of course, we know that no matter the weather, we should be wearing this stuff 365 days a year. But we also know that not all sunscreen is made equal. We’re down with a natural glow, but no one wants to get burned or to suffer sun damage. So what exactly do we look for in a sunscreen to make sure we’re safe?
Some facts you may not know: All sunscreen sold in Canada must conform to Health Canada guidelines that test the Sun Protection Factor (SPF). So as long it’s got an SPF of at least 15 and is broad spectrum (UVA and UVB), you’re protected from the sun’s rays. Which begs the question: how protected are you, and what’s in there that’s doing the trick? Keep these stats in mind. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 gives you 93% protection from the sun’s rays, SPF 30 increases it to 97% and the jump to SPF 50 tops it off at 98%.
But nothing—short staying in shade—will give you 100% protection. Regardless of the SPF, all sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours, or 80 minutes in the water (for the water-resistant type), or after towelling off even if you weren’t in the water long. Reapplication is key to preventing sun damage.
SUNSCREEN TYPES: CHEMICAL AND PHYSICAL
There are two types of sunscreen on the market today, physical and chemical, and while both protect you from a burn when used correctly, you may like one over the other for your skin type. Whether you choose a physical or a chemical-based sunscreen, heed these rules:
- Wear it all the time, even on a cloudy day
- Use the equivalent of a shot glass full for your whole body or a quarter-sized dollop just for your face
- Reapply every 2 hours
- Don’t forget easy-to-miss spots like the part in your hair or the tips of your ears
- Stay in the shade or indoors between 12-2 when the sun is at its strongest
- Wear loose fitting, tightly woven fabrics to give you additional protection
Chemical-based sunscreens are the most common and the brands will sound familiar: Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone, Banana Boat, Ombrelle. The ingredients in these products work by absorbing the ultraviolet rays and radiating them off as heat. But what’s in them? There are 5 main chemicals used: Oxybenzone, Avobenzone (one of the only chemicals to block UVA rays so it’s in most sunscreens), Homosalate, Octocrylene, and Octisalate (which stabilizes Avobenzone so it’s in all the same sunscreens as Avobenzone). Keep in mind that Oxybenzone can cause skin reactions so if you have sensitive skin, avoid products that have it listed as an ingredient, especially on your face. Remember: Chemical sunscreens take at least 15 minutes to begin working so make sure to apply 15-30 minutes before you head into the sun.
Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Oil Free Sunscreen
This water-resistant product is a good, reliable option for daily use. It has a very light fragrance, softens skin as it protects and goes on silky smooth for even coverage.
Available in SPF 15, 30, or 45. 240 ml $14.99
Ombrelle Ultra-Light Weightless Body Lotion 50 SPF
Always an option for everyday wear, Ombrelle launched their best lotion ever this spring. Even more lightweight and waterproof (80 minutes in the water!) than the other products in this leading line, this one offers ultralight sun protection lotion for the body, and since it absorbs quickly and leaves a comfortable finish with no white film, stickiness, or residue, it really is perfect for everyday wear. The hypoallergenic formula is fragrance and colorant free, and goes on smoothly with good coverage.
Also available in a fluid for the face. Choose from a variety of water-resistant, fragrance free, and hypoallergenic products in a variety of SPF levels. Prices vary.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist
We love this product for its misty spray that doesn’t feel sticky or wet. It really is ultra light and almost feels as if it’s going on dry. The weightless formula, made with HELIOPLEX® technology, not only provides photostable broad-spectrum protection to your skin against harmful UVA/UVB rays, but is especially easy to apply even to hard-to-reach areas, like your back. For the best all-over protection, get naked and mist yourself all over, so if you’re shedding layers, you’ll be set. Count on this sunscreen to be water and sweat resistant for up to 80 minutes, and since it resists running into eyes, you can wear it on your face, too. The one-touch continuous spray works at any angle.
Sun Bum Face Stick
Touching up is just as important as the first application. This 30 SPF stick from Florida-based Sun Bum, is as handy as it is protective from UVA and UVB rays. The solid stick glides on smoothly and smells great, too. We love the whole surf-inspired line that gives a healthy, gorgeous glow while making you feel like you’re one of the cool kids.
In Canada at Shoppers Drug Mart. $9.99
You may hear these ones referred to as “mineral” sunscreens. That’s because they contain either zinc alone or a combo of zinc and titanium dioxide. Physical sunscreens create a physical barrier that blocks or deflects the sun’s rays before they hit your skin. This type of sunscreen used to be more common. Think of those white strips of zinc on lifeguards’ noses and you’ll remember. But they have fallen out of favour because nobody wants to look like Casper the Ghost. Newer versions have smaller mineral particles so you won’t get that whiteness if you rub it in completely but that will take a good couple of minutes since it goes on thick. While there is less of a selection here, natural lines such as Green Beaver and Badger have had zinc-only offerings for a while. Bonus: Physical sunscreens begin to work on application so there is no waiting period before you can head out into the sun.
Aveeno Active Naturals Sensitive Skin Sunscreen is famous for its skin care products for sensitive skin and its sunscreen is no exception. It is water-resistant, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. It rubs in easily, and contains oat extract for soothing sensitive skin. Hands down a favourite product for face.
Available in SPF 50 only. 80ml $17.99
Cliniderm Gentle Protective Lotion
Cliniderm is a well-known brand for people with sensitive skin. The gentle protective lotion is non-greasy, easy to apply and virtually invisible. The only downside is that it does not list water resistance as a feature (though the instructions do say to re-apply after swimming). It’s a great product for faces because it moisturizes as it protects.
Available in SPF 45 only. 75 ml $31.49
Goddess Garden Organics Sunny Body
Unlike some other natural-based sunscreens, this product is fairly sheer. While not as easy to apply as chemical-based sunscreens, it does go on a little better than most, and smells good, too. This product, which is water-resistant, contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. At 92% organic, it’s the ‘cleanest’ product on the market right now, offering SPF 30 broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays—all without chemicals.
TarteGuard 30 Sunscreen Lotion
Tarte is one of our favourite high-end brands that offers natural-based products, and their first facial sunscreen doesn’t disappoint. This baby multi-tasks: Its anti-oxidant-infused, non-sticky and all-mineral Broad Spectrum 30 ingredients protect your skin from the sun’s effects like dryness, redness, dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. The skinvigorating™ formula is also infused with maracuja, red algae, soybean, apple, and honeysuckle extracts to nourish, tone, and retain moisture while helping to combat signs of aging for a firmer, brighter, smoother appearance. It goes on smooth, absorbs easily, and is ideal for normal-to-dry-skin.
Got any sunscreens you recommend?
Oh, and for added protection, try eating your way to sun-protected skin:
5 FOODS THAT CAN HELP PROTECT YOUR SKIN FROM SUN DAMAGE Jenn Annis is a writer, editor, historian, special needs advocate, and tireless defender of the Oxford comma. Find her at JennWrites and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.