I recently had the “POV: Your boomer mom at the beach” reel pop up in my Instagram feed, Kristen cosplaying a doting grandmother promising to reapply sunscreen (which she, like my boomer mom, calls “suntan lotion”) to everyone every two hours. It was the first of her videos I couldn’t identify with. As a kid, when my boomer mom did pull out the sunscreen before dropping me off at the city pool for the day, which was rare, it was the cheapest one imaginable and so past its expiration date it came out in oily, separated spurts that wouldn’t have protected my fair skin for 5 minutes.
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Although I still laughed at the video, I wasn’t laughing when I found myself on a dermatologist’s table earlier this year getting a spot removed, explaining the number of terrible sunburns I sustained as a kid and vowing to do better for my own children. The Texas sun may be relentless, but the sun is necessary to sustain life on Earth, and is the source of a vitamin our bodies need to build and maintain healthy bones, so we have to find ways to peacefully coexist. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself and your family from the giant flamethrower in the sky.
Some sunscreens have (fairly) gotten a bad rap for containing chemicals that harm marine life, carry health risks, or both. For these reasons, it’s important to seek out quality mineral sunscreens instead of picking up whatever’s on the endcap. Although sunscreens with good quality ingredients tend to cost more, they don’t have to cost you an arm and a leg if you know what to look for. Sarah Franklin, a licensed esthetician at Austin’s Face to Face Spa says whenever possible, look for sunscreens with the following labels:
- Noncomedogenic – which means it won’t clog your pores.
- Paraben free – which means it doesn’t contain harmful preservatives.
- Cruelty free – which means it wasn’t developed using experimentation on animals.
- Skin Cancer Foundation recommended – meaning they meet physician criteria for safe and effective sun protection.
- Reef safe – which means it doesn’t contain coral-bleaching ingredients.
Also remember that higher quality sunscreen contains less filler ingredients, so you can use less product of a quality mineral sunscreen that will last you longer. Sunscreen should be part of your daily routine, even if you’re planning to avoid direct sunlight. UVA that penetrates windows (especially while driving), harsh fluorescent lights, and even the blue light emitted by your computer can damage the skin on your face. Some of the worst sunburns I’ve ever gotten (and I’ve gotten some doozies, including inside my belly button, between my toes, and under my chin) have been on cloudy days when I thought I could forgo sunscreen.
Spray vs. lotion
Of course, the most effective sunscreen is the one you actually put on your skin, which is why spray sunscreens have exploded in popularity since they first hit the market; if it’s less of a hassle to apply, your chances of applying it are greater. Spray sunscreen is more expensive and generally considered to be less effective, however, because spray is harder to control, and people end up with less of it on their skin compared to its lotion counterparts. It can also cause respiratory irritation when inhaled, so don’t spray your kids (or yourself) in the face.
To be effective, sunscreen needs to dry and soak into the skin, so whether you use spray or lotion, the best thing to do is to apply a base layer of sunscreen before leaving the house. Spraying a herd of impatient kids down right before standing under the Gully Washer at Typhoon Texas is an exercise in futility. If you do use spray sunscreen, either as a base layer or for reapplying, rub it into the skin after applying it for the best protection, and make them do the same for you, too, mama! Free back rubs!
Other forms of sun protection
Sunscreen alone isn’t the only way to protect yourself from sun damage, and it’s not recommended for babies under 6 months. While the active ingredients in sunscreen differ little from diaper cream, tiny baby skin is more prone to rashes from sunscreen. It’s also more about the sun exposure than the sunscreen; babies are at greater risk for dehydration and can’t regulate their body temperatures the same way bigger kids can (remember how they howled the first time you gave them a bath two degrees hotter than normal?).
The same recommendations for babies too young to wear sunscreen apply for bigger kids and adults, too: shade, sleeves, and hats. Wearing tightly woven suns shirts (yes, you can still sunburn through your clothes if you try hard enough… I’ve managed it) and a hat will keep the worst of the sun off your most vulnerable places: your face and shoulders. And let’s be real, hanging out at the shaded tiki bar on the beach is far more enjoyable than getting double baked with sun reflecting off the sand, anyway.
Finally, a healthy daily dose of vitamin C – either taken internally or applied topically to the face – will further protect you from sun damage. A good quality vitamin C serum can also reduce redness and improve facial tone and texture.
“Wear Sunscreen” isn’t just an iconic 1999 pop song, it’s also one of my rules for life (along with don’t go anywhere without baby wipes and a book… also vitally important in summer), especially now that I see a dermatologist once and year and DGAF about looking cool in a bikini anymore. I will rock my long sleeve mom suit and gardening hat all the way to the tiki bar. And I will do better than my boomer mom with lathering up my kids no matter how much they roll their eyes at me.
- Emily Oster on babies and sunscreen
- Information on reef safe sunscreen
- Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen ratings