Summer Skin Savers Part 1 — The Sunscreen Edition
Want to know the secret to younger-looking skin? Sunscreen. Ask any dermatologist or skin care expert, and he or she will likely warn that sun exposure can lead to a plethora of concerns linked to mature-looking skin — from hyperpigmentation (otherwise known as sun spots) to the type of cell degeneration and DNA damage that leads to collagen and elastin loss, which inevitably means saggier skin and the emergence of fine lines and wrinkles. Though we should all apply sunscreen year round, it’s particularly important to load up on sunscreen during the summer months, when we’re likely to spend more time under the sun’s beaming rays.
But how do you find a sunscreen that works for you? And how to decide what sunscreen to use for trips to the beach and which to use under makeup? First, consider your destination and the conditions therein — will you be sitting in an office most of the day or will you be bicycling outdoors, playing frisbee at the park, or lounging at the beach? Second, ask yourself whether you prefer physical sunblocks like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which sit atop the skin and either block or deflect UV rays, or chemical sun screen like avobenzone and oxybenzone which seep into the skin and absorb the sun’s rays before they can cause any skin cell damage. Third, take into account your skin type as you’ll want a product that will suit your specific needs (whether it’s a gentle hypoallergenic formulation for sensitive skin, a moisturizing formula for normal to dry skin, or a non-greasy, fluid option for oily skin). And last, think of the type of texture and consistency you’d find most pleasant.
To get you started on the quest for the perfect sunscreen, I’ve amassed some of my favorites and described their ingredients, texture, and overall performance. Let’s get ready for some fun in the sun!
L’Occitane Angelica UV Shield SPF 40, $34. Available at USA.LOccitane.com
Ladies, meet my new best friend: the L’Occitane Angelica UV Shield SPF 40. This invigorating, aromatic skin care product smells herbal and fresh, like a mix of chamomile and lime, and it has an almost watery consistency so that it’s easy to smooth onto your face (which you should do after cleansing and moisturizing). Titanium dioxide acts as a mineral sunscreen, while angelica water stimulates the synthesis of aquaporins (channels through which moisture enters the hearts of cells), thereby delivering immediate hydration and also boosting the skin’s own irrigation system. Angelica essential oil, meanwhile, restores elasticity to your skin. Rich in vitamin B12, zinc, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, and iron, angelica root extract nourishes your complexion. When you apply the UV shield atop your face, you’ll experience a delightful calming effect and, once it fully dries (which only takes a few seconds), you’ll notice your skin appears more supple and luminous. On low-maintenance days, when I want to wear as little makeup as possible, I’ll apply this atop a tinted moisturizer for an added layer of protection. I love how radiant my skin looks after applying the Angelica UV Shield — it’s the type of glow that makes people tell you how happy you look. Happiness in a bottle? Maybe so!
MAC Prep + Prime BB Beauty Balm SPF 35, $30. Available at MACcosmetics.com
This lightly tinted, near-sheer, flesh-colored balm feels like a fluffy mousse on the skin, so lightweight and silky soft, it feels like a treat for your complexion. In addition to boasting SPF 35 protection, the MAC Prep + Prime Beauty Balm smooths the skin, creating an even canvas on which to apply your foundation, powder, and blush, and yielding a subtle, lit-from-within glow. It’s the perfect product to incorporate to your daily makeup routine during the summer months since it both primes skin an protects it from the sun’s scorching rays.
Shiseido Urban Environment UV Protection Cream For Face/Body SPF 35, $30. Available at Sephora.com
Though it’s billed as being designed for daily use, I’d recommend saving this potent sunscreen for days when you’ll be bare-faced and playing, working, or exercising in the sun for lengthy periods of time as it’s a bit too thick to be layered under makeup. That being said, the Shiseido Urban Environment UV protection cream not only provides broad-spectrum UV protection, but it hydrates skin and infuses it with powerful antioxidants. The cream contains anti-aging, skin-saving ingredients like: rose apple leaf extract, which can prevent oxidative damage at the DNA level; Scutellaria Baicalensis extract, derived from a flowering plant commonly found in Asia, which prevents UV damage to the fibroblasts that produce collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, all essential to maintaining skin elasticity; Thiotaurine, a sulphur-amino acid that prevents the sebum from generating active oxygen which, in turn, can result in cell membrane damage and exacerbate the emergence of visible aging signs; and Shiseido’s Hydro-Restoring Complex, a blend of moisturizing amino acids and skin barrier-strengthening glycerin and xlytol. Though it goes on white, once blended, you won’t have any dreaded, plaster-y residue. Plus, you can take a quick dip without it rinsing off your skin or smearing all over the place. Just remember: even though water-resistant, you still have to reapply every 2 hours!
Melvita Prosun Sun Cream SPF 15, $40 at USA.Melvita.com
This organic, mineral-bases sunscreen provides UVA and UVB protection via micronized titanium and zinc, while mango butter nourishes skin and also shields it from the sun’s rays, easily absorbed jojoba oil provides long-lasting hydration and restores skin to its optimal moisture balance, and antioxidant-rich sesame oil helps to neutralize oxygen radicals and protects skin from irritation and inflammation. In terms of texture, this sunscreen isn’t overly thick or creamy so that you can actually work it onto skin with relative ease and not worry about any chalky residue or greasy sheen. Instead, you’ll feel completely comfortable while wearing the cream, plus you’ll notice that your skin feels smoother and softer thanks to the nourishing plant ingredients in the formula.
Lavanila The Healthy Sun Screen SPF 30 Body Cream, $38. Available at Sephora.com
The pros: this sunscreen is eco-friendly and free of parabens, sulfates, petrochemicals, and synthetic fragrances and dyes; it contains antioxidant-rich green tea to protect skin from free radicals, cucumber extract to soothe skin, and shea butter to hydrate and soften; and it contains only mineral sunscreens, rather than chemical screens.
The cons: it’s rather dense, as starkly white as a a tablespoon of Mylanta or a stream of Ajax toilet bowl cleanser, and almost as thick as plaster so that, even as you vigorously rub it into the skin, you still wind up with stubborn chalky streaks.
The verdict: Lavanila’s Healthy Sun Screen will protect your skin from UV rays and its chemical-free formulation is a major plus, but it may not be the most comfortable option, particularly for everyday use.
All of the new products in the Clarins Sun Care range, including the Sun Care Milk-Lotion Spray SPF 50+, rely on a Multi-Filter Complex for broad-spectrum UV protection and a Phyto-Sunactyl 2 Complex, which blends together extracts of senna, pea, plane tree, olive and baobab to replenish and moisturize skin, provide free radical protection, and keep visible aging signs from creeping up on your face. This lightweight, near-milky lotion comes in a handy spray form and is both water- and sweat-resistant. While the Milk-Lotion Spray doesn’t feel overly greasy or sticky, it does leave a bit of a sheen, as if you’d applied a fresh coat of body oil. I applied this at the beach recently and, when I rested my forearm on my copy of New York magazine (I was working on the crossword puzzle, of course), the oil from the sunscreen actually smeared the ink on the page to the point where it was barely legible. Though it proved to be an inconvenience in this particular scenario, the sheen could almost be perceived as a positive factor, since it makes the skin look like it’s glistening.
MDSolarSciences Mineral Screen Lotion, $36. Available at MDSolarSciences.com
This has rapidly become my sunscreen of choice due to both the immense protection it offers (primarily via titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, physical sunscreens that block or deflect the sun’s UVA and UVB rays) and its ultra lightweight consistency. Rather than a goopy sunblock, this feels like a fluid body lotion, gliding right onto skin and blending in so effortlessly, you’ll forget you’re wearing it (as opposed to most thick, balmy sunscreens that make you feel even hotter and stickier). This particular formula is fragrance-free, making it particularly suitable for women with sensitive skin, plus it doesn’t contain chemical sunscreen ingredients (like oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octisalate) that could potentially irritate skin.
Consider this my official mom stamp of approval. These pediatrician-recommended sunscreens are gentle, hypoallergenic, and free of oxybenzone, a controversial chemical that some experts believe can disrupt endocrinal functions, lead to topical allergic reactions, and even penetrate the skin (little research exists on what level of oxybenzone content in the human body is considered safe and, until recently, few believed the chemical could be absorbed by the skin and seep into the blood stream). Since childrens’ skin is so tender and their bodies aren’t able to expel toxins as quickly and effectively those of adults, extra caution should be employed when selecting a proper sunscreen. The Sunbow Sunscreen Spray relies mainly on micronized zinc oxide and homosalate, an organic compound that provides UVB protection. If your child is allergic to artificial coloring or you’re dead set against using any product with parabens (this one does contain propylparaben), you may want to steer clear but, otherwise, this is one of the best alternatives on the market.
Here’s the biggest selling point: kids will actually WANT to apply sunscreen when they see the clever packaging, which features illustrations of either Dora the Explorer or Spongebob Squarepants in tropical scenarios. My son can’t get enough of the Spongebob sunscreen, which has a banana pudding-esque yellow color when first spritzed onto skin (once you blend it in, the color becomes clear) and smells like a mix between banana candy and bubble gum. The spray applicator is particularly handy since I can spritz it directly onto his limbs, belly, and back, then rub the lightweight formula quickly without him becoming antsy and trying to wiggle free so he can run and play in the sand. Plus, I don’t have to worry about a cream that can leak all over my beach bag should the cap open or come undone.
Ole Henriksen Fresh Lips SPF 15, $15. Available at Sephora.com
This clear lip balm comes in a squeezable, pocket-friendly tube. The non-greasy lip protector features antioxidant-rich vitamin E, moisturizing cocoa butter, cooling menthol and camphor, and oil controlling licorice extract, plus it’s enriched with SPF 15 to protect your kisser. Due to the menthol in the formula, Fresh Lips smells nice and minty but do resist the urge to lick your lips since this product is hardly meant to be ingested. Also, though it promises to plump your pout, Fresh Lips really functions like more of a clear gloss, albeit one with SPF protection. Think of it as a gloss with sunscreen benefits, but don’t rely on this to keep your pout moisturized and soft: its hydrating powers are mediocre at best.