Let’s get real: sun protection is serious—and sunscreen needs to be a serious part of your skincare routine. But with all the misinformation out there, it can be hard to determine what kind to use, how much, and when.
That’s where we come in.
We’re here to break down the facts, bust the myths and provide tips and tricks for making sure you’re covered when it comes to sun protection. Of course we turned to Elizabeth Weiler, OVME’s director of education and development, to weigh in.
Let’s start with the basics—what exactly is the sun doing to your skin?
There are various types of harmful radiation, but here are the big ones:
- UVA: “We call this UV-Aging,” Weiler says. “It’s the one responsible for frying a lot of the collagen and elastin that is critical to keep your skin looking young.” Remember those cartoons where the bully fries ants with a magnifying glass? “That’s what UVA is doing to our collagen,” Weiler says. “It’s called solar elastosis, and it’s frying your tissue.”
- UVB: “I like to remember this as UV-Burning,” Weiler says. “It’s the one that gives you a sunburn.” A lot of people worry about that one bad sunburn they got as a kid, Weiler says, but the damage isn’t necessarily caused by one incident. “It’s the everyday cumulative effect of living on this planet and being exposed to all these different forms of light radiation.” That’s why everyday protection is all the more important.
Psst … Harmful rays don’t just come from the sun. Exposure to heat and blue light, from the 11 hours per day on average we spend staring at screens, can cause damage to the skin as well.
The good news?
SPF isn’t what it used to be. “There are great formulations now that are so cosmetically elegant, you look forward to using them,” Weiler says. “They don’t smell like coconuts, they don’t make your eyes burn or sting, they’re not greasy, they won’t make you break out. They’ve come a long way.” Look for ones that have a texture and consistency you like, she suggests.
Weiler believes everyone should have a “sunscreen wardrobe”: basically, a cache of product to reach for in different scenarios. Here are some of her favorites:
For when it’s humid: SkinMedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 35
Skip the ultra-moisturizing formulations when it’s humid and opt for something with a clean or matte finish, Weiler suggests.
For when it’s dry: Revision Intellishade Original
“If it’s dry out, I’m going to reach for my moisturizing, more hydrating decadent formula that’s going to give the youthful, dewy look,” Weiler says.” She uses a tinted version on her face and untinted on her neck and chest.
For all-in-one anti-aging: SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair SPF 34
“Infrared makes up 54% of the light spectrum, penetrating deeper into the skin and resulting in accelerated signs of aging,” Weiler says. That’s where antioxidants come in—and this formulation is loaded with them.
For reapplication: Kate Somerville Soft Focus Makeup Setting Spray SPF 50
Note that because you’re misting this formula on, you won’t get the full SPF 50 rating, you simply can’t apply as much as needed with a mist, but it’s better than not reapplying at all, Weiler says.
For blocking blue light: Revision Lumivive Day
Look for iron oxide in your sunscreen. The ingredient do es double duty, providing tint and protecting against blue light, which can cause hyperpigmentation.
Once you’ve got your product lineup, it’s time to focus on the the biggest question:
How much sunscreen to use?
This is ultra important, says Weiler, especially since the SPF number on your bottle is totally irrelevant if you’re not using enough. ”For example: With SPF 50, the average American is only putting on enough of that product to get an average SPF of 6,” she says. “We’re all concerned about the number, but it really do esn’t matter if you’re not putting on enough of it.”
Weiler says you should be applying a full teaspoon to your face, neck and chest every morning. That’s a lot of product—here’s how she divvies it up for even coverage:
- 3 dollops on the forehead
- 3 dollops on each cheek
- 1 dollop on either side of the nose
- 1 dollop on either side of the chin
- 1 dollop to the neck
- 2 dollops to the chest
Use a silicone mask brush to sweep the product over your skin and make it a spa-like experience, a self-care moment, Weiler suggests. Let it sit for a few minutes to do it’s job, which is to establish a protective barrier on the skin. Sunscreen should be the last step of your skincare routine, after cleansing, serums and moisturizer, but be applied before you put your makeup on. (Psst … tinted SPF doubles as makeup.)
It’s not all about the face. Be sure to apply sunscreen to the tops of your ears and backs of your hands especially, Weiler says. “Techinically, if it’s exposed to the sun, it should have SPF on it.”
Now, how often should I reapply sunscreen?
You may have heard that you need to apply SPF every 2-3 hours. The idea of taking off all your makeup and starting the process over is a bit overwhelming, Weiler admits. But if you’re going to go sit outside for happy hour after work, you need to reapply in some form or another. Here are four quick and easy ways she suggests:
- Dispense product onto the back of your hand and gently press and roll it onto skin over your makeup. “I like Intellishade because as long as you don’t swirl it all around, your makeup won’t get muddy,” Weiler says. “You can actually press SPF into makeup that you’ve been wearing already.”
- Use a powdered sunscreen for touch-ups
- Use a makeup remover wipe and quickly reapply tinted SPF if you don’t need the full face
- Use a mist-on SPF makeup setting spray, just be aware that these are not as effective
Taking SPF seriously is critical to protecting yourself from skin cancer and signs of early aging. It may seem like a lot, but it can be done. “Just have some different product choices to reach for, make it enjoyable, and challenge yourself to put on a full teaspoon every day and see what happens,” Weiler says. “I dare you.”