How a Cancer Scare Shook Me Out of My Sunscreen Rut, Plus the 4 Best Sunscreens, Ever

I’ve now tried almost every sun protector on the market and found four really, really good ones. That are actually fun to wear. LET’S START THE SEXY SUNSCREEN REVOLUTION!!
Publish date:
September 19, 2012
healthy, sunscreen, skin cancer

Thanks to my Irish/Swedish background, I’ve always had pale skin. In grade school, I saw the cool girls come back from Caribbean vacations over spring break looking tanned and beautiful, and I wanted to be like them. My pale skin wasn’t “in.” My friends and I used to line up our arms to see who was the “darkest” (a weird and racially insensitive game only third graders could come up with), and I always lost. I tried a lot of self-tanners that made me look orange and stupid. I cried when boys at the back of the school bus called me “albino.”

In high school and college, I stopped caring about how pale I was, but I did slack on sun protection. I’m not really sure why -- none of my friends were obsessed with sunscreen, so I just didn’t make a point to use it unless I was spending a day at the beach. I even went to a tanning bed a couple times before a sorority trip down the coast (lame on a lot of levels).

Then last fall I found out that one of the moles on my back was crowded with precancers -- the kind of cells that quickly turn into melanoma. When I went in for my yearly dermatologist visit, my derm went from looking at the mole to numbing my skin and SHAVING IT OFF in 30 seconds. The removal left a goopy, bloody patch in its place that my roommate kindly dressed with bandages daily for two weeks. Then the biopsy came back. I had to go back to my derm to get the skin and tissue surrounding the mole cut out to prevent the dysplastic cells from spreading. I now have a nice, big scar that I’m hoping one day will look sexy but right now looks like a caterpillar.

The whole ordeal naturally scared the shit out of me. I mean, I never thought that at 21 years old the word “cancer” would be associated with something going on in my body. Thankfully, I caught it early, I have good health care, and my procedures worked. At my annual checkup last week, my derm found no sign of abnormalities anywhere. I did like, 3 signs of the cross in a row and I’m not even religious! I know I’m lucky. And I am full on kicking my 16-year-old self in the teeth for not taking care of my skin sooner.

Now that summer is ending, it is so tempting to stop wearing sunscreen. But, OH GOD, we all need at least SPF 30, every single day. I know it’s boring and unsexy but will you help me change that? I’ve now tried almost every sun protector on the market and found four really, really good ones. That are actually fun to wear. LET’S START THE SEXY SUNSCREEN REVOLUTION!!

Best All-Around:Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 30

This is your high-quality basic, perfect for everyday wear. It’s super light and you can’t even feel it when it dries. No excuse not to slap some on before starting your day!

Best for a Beach Day or Exercise:Aveeno Hydrosport Sunblock Spray SPF 50

If you’re going to be near water, sweating, or both, you need a sunscreen that’s designed for wet skin. This one smells delicious (kind of coconut-y) and really stays on. I’ve been using it on my runs (okay, slow jogs).

Best for Face:La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Tinted Mineral

This is the lightest, silkiest formula I’ve found. The tint is great -- it blends seamlessly under makeup or can be worn alone. Anyone worried about aging should be using this daily. (Have I impressed upon you yet that all this is daily?? It’s daily.)

Best for Glamour:Oscar de la Renta Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30

The holy grail. I’ve been eyeing this bad boy for months and finally snagged a bottle. At $42 a pop it’s not cheap, but can you put a price on the best-smelling, most luxurious sunscreen ever made? Not to mention the incredibly sexy packaging. I never forget sunscreen when I go out now because I want this in my bag, making everything look prettier.

Have any of you experienced a skin cancer scare? Or known stupid kids in grade school? Tell me, tell me. And leave your sunscreen recs, too.

Allie is avenging grade school bullying on Twitter @allierileyjones