Ultimate Guide to Summer Skin Protection and Sunscreen

Summer is here, y’all! And you know what that means… lots of time at the pool, beach and everywhere outside with family and friends. But with all this fun comes responsibility for our health and well-being. One of the biggest ways in which we need to care for ourselves during this time is to manage our exposure to the sun, including applying sunscreen and wearing appropriate clothing.

Read on for tips on keeping you and your kids safe in the sun this summer, as well as the best sunscreens available on the market. 

woman applying sunscreen to childAs a fair-skinned woman, mother to small children, and healthcare worker, I am very concerned with sun exposure and skin care. When I was young and stupid, I went to tanning beds and slathered on the oil. Now that I am older, I apply sunscreen every day, wear hats and protective clothing when in the sun, and cannot even venture outside without sunglasses.

Our skin is our largest organ, and it needs our protection and care. There is much we can do to prevent damage. Even just the regular use of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 can reduce our chances of developing serious skin cancers by 40-50%. That is huge! Let’s look at some other ways you can protect your skin and that of your kids, and I will also give you some tips on finding the best sunscreens on the market right now.

Skin Care in the Sun

Other than the use of sunscreen, there are some general ways in which you can protect your skin from the sun. When it is extremely hot and sunny out, especially in the afternoon sun, try to stay in the shade as much as possible. Wear sun-safe clothing that offers UV protection. You can even find bathing suits these days that offer sun protection, like this one from RuffleButts that I got for my 2 year old.

mother in pool with babies in floats

Try to wear a hat, especially a wide-brimmed one, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Your eyes and scalp are particularly sensitive to the sun, as are your ears and the rest of your face. In fact, the face, scalp, ears, and neck are the most common places people get skin cancer. Try to remember that every time you step outside. I started wearing a moisturizer with an SPF of 30 on my face, neck, and the backs of my hands years ago for this reason (and also to help prevent signs of sun damage because *hello* I need to age with grace!).

General Information on Sunscreen

sunscreen aisle at drugstore

Let’s first talk about SPF. What does it mean? SPF = Sun Protection Factor. It relates to how much UV radiation is required to produce a sunburn on protected skin versus unprotected skin. A common misconception is that this relates to time; an SPF of 15 means you can stay out in the sun 15 times longer. This is NOT true. SPF relates to the AMOUNT of sun exposure protection, and this will vary throughout the day as the sun’s solar energy intensifies. So for example, you can be exposed to the same solar energy for an hour at 9 AM as you can for 15 minutes at 1 PM. Sunscreen will protect you better and longer earlier or later in the day as compared to midday, no matter the SPF.

So what SPF should you look for? For everyday wear, at least 15. For activities outdoors, at least 30. And SPF of 40 blocks at least 98% of rays, so anything higher than that is not going to do much better.

Another tip is that you get a broad spectrum sunscreen, which means it protects against both UVB and UVA rays. Traditionally, sunscreens have protected against UVB rays which cause burns, but UVA rays have been found to be linked to deeper skin damage. Both can lead to skin cancer, so your sunscreen should protect against both.

Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen

There are two main types of sunscreens: physical/mineral or chemical. Mineral sunscreens use particles (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) to sit on the skin and physically block the rays from penetrating beneath. Chemical sunscreens use certain substances (oxybenzone, etc) to turn UV light into heat, which dissipates from the skin. Neither has been found to be superior or safer than the other, although there is currently ongoing research on chemical ingredients, namely oxybenzone.

Chemical sunscreens are typically easier to apply and perform better at blocking UV light, but they can cause skin reactions, especially in those people with sensitive skin. They also take longer to absorb and start working. Mineral sunscreens start working right away and are better for people with most skin problems (other than acne), but are harder to put on and need to be reapplied more often.

In the end, the choice of sunscreen you use is really up to you. However, it appears that mineral is better than chemical (as far as we know), and lotions are better than sprays. See below for a list of top recommended products.

The Best Sunscreens for 2022

I scoured various articles and research studies to compile a list of the best sunscreens available at this time, and who they might be best for. I also cross-referenced against the 15th Annual Guide to Sunscreens published in 2021 by the Environmental Working Group. Comment below if you have a favorite I missed!

collage of top sunscreen picksBest Overall Brands: ThinkSport, ThinkBaby, Raw Elements, Attitude

Best Spray: Supergoop! Play Antioxidant Body Mist or Sun Bum Sunscreen Spray, SPF 15-30

Best Lotion: Earth Mama Sunscreen Lotion

Best for Sensitive Skin: Blue Lizard Sensitive Sunscreen Stick

Best for Oily Skin: Andalou Naturals Vitamin C Beauty Balm

Best for Darker Skin: Black Girl Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion

Best for Lips: Vanicream Lip Protectant

Best for Head and Hair: Coola Scalp and Hair Mist

Best for Kids and Family: ThinkBaby and ThinkSport Lotions or Sticks

Best for Activity: Suntegrity Mineral Sunscreen Lotion Sport

Environmentally Friendly/Reefsafe: ThinkSport, Babo Botanicals or Raw Elements

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Dani Boss
Dani has spent the vast majority of her life in the greater Houston area, and there’s no place else she’d rather be! She loves all things Houston, from the culture, to the sports, to the FOOD {ohhhh, Tex-Mex}. After many years attending Texas A&M University {twice!} and the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston, she worked in the healthcare field for over a decade as a critical care nurse and then a family nurse practitioner. In 2021, she left her medical career in order to care for her youngest daughter at home who has epilepsy. Dani is wife to her best friend Stu, and mom to two little spitfires, Emilia {2017} and Caroline {2019}. When she is not caring for her family, Dani is an avid gardener and now has her own business, Summer Skye Gardens, which provides garden coaching, consultations, design and more. You can follow her gardening journey and love of all things nature-related via her Instagram @summerskyegardens and her website www.summerskyegardens.com.


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