How NOT to Tan; Hints for Protecting Your Skin From the Glowing Ball of Death in the Sky

This olive pallor takes work to maintain, y'all.

Jul 6, 2012 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

There are two things I need to thrive: sunlight and a body of water (preferably a pool, though a hot tub helps). My husband laughs and calls me a lizard because there are days when my only goal is bask in the light for a while. I like to sleep in the sun - I'll wait for him in the warm car when we run errands and catch 15 minutes of sleep, just letting the heat of the day sink in.

Heaven is a clean clear pool and an excruciatingly sunny day.

Right now, here in Florida, the sky is huge and blue - there aren't any clouds in it. The light isn't as fierce as it's going to get (it's still fairly early in the morning as I write this), but by the time three o'clock rolls around, it's going to be the kind of light that turns the inside of your eyelids red when you blink. Inescapable and intense, it's the kind of light that makes me feel like I can soak up energy right from the sun.

I'm sure it's got something to do with the curvature of the earth, but there's something about the light in tropical places - it's okay in the subtropics but the closer you get to the equator, the brighter things get, the more clarity the light has. I sound like some kind of hippie painter or something, but my best days tend to be the days I never need to take off my sunglasses.

You'd think, what with this passionate love affair I have going on with intense summer sunlight, that I'd either walk around with continual sun burn or be tanned like a damned hide. But no! I still actually kind of identify as goth! This olive pallor takes work to maintain, y'all.

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My skin shouldn't have to suffer just because I love the sun.

So whatever is a person to do when their idyllic environment and their scene collide in like some carefully constructed disaster from that movie "Crash"? (The 1996 car crash fetish movie, not the 2004 movie that I can't actually sum up.)

People, this is why sunscreen was invented.

Actually, sunscreen was invented because a) sunburns suck and b) sun exposure is not actually good for your skin.

(There's also a lot of political stuff here for people with dark skin - the social message as long been that light is right, and that is definitely bullshit. There is no such thing as too dark to be beautiful.)

If you're tanning - and that goes for people of all natural skin tones - the sun is actually doing a couple of things to your skin that aren't so great. One, the sun is drying you out. This can, to a certain extent, be combated with moisturizer. But the sun is also breaking down the collagen in your skin - collagen is what holds your skin together. This can lead to wrinkles, yes, but the thing that concerns me the most is that it actively impedes healing. Sun damage can prevent small wounds from healing and increase the likelihood that you will scar.

Sunscreen and sunblock do more than just smell like delicious, amazing summer time. They aren't even the same thing.

Sunscreen filters ultraviolet (UV) radiation. There are three kinds: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. It's the first two that do us some damage; UV-A leads to cancer and skin aging, while UV-B is what changes our color.

Look for a sunscreen that blocks BOTH UV-A and UV-B. SPF doesn't actually describe UV-A protection - it's just about UV-B. Read labels to make sure there's some UV-A protection in there, too. "Broad spectrum" USUALLY bodes well, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Or, check out sunblock instead. Sunblock is made of reflective particles that physically prevent the light from reaching your skin. If you've ever seen a lifeguard with white stuff on his nose, that's sunblock. And that's a lifeguard who doesn't have to deal with skin peeling off of their face.

That white stuff was zinc oxide. It's not so common anymore, because science and technology are amazing. We can make much smaller particles now. And so sunblocks can actually be clear.

This is fantastic news, because the most effective way of preventing a sunburn is to, you know, not get sun on your skin.

As much as I love the smell of the Hawaiian Tropic products (and I even have a new one to test out), my go-to and all-time fave sunblock is made by Neutrogena. It's not the fanciest ish ever made, so it doesn't make me feel particularly glamorous. But it does actually work. I can go spend two hours in the sun and come back without tan lines. Specifically, it's Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock.

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Get the 55 not the 70 unless you need the mega SPF.

I don't like feeling greasy. In fact, I cannot handle feeling greasy even a tiny little bit. And that's the biggest thing this Dry-Touch stuff has going for it over a lot of the more expensive brands I've tried - it's waterproof and it absorbs quickly and I don't feel disgusting when I put it on.

Here's the only downside I have found: if you have very sensitive skin, this might aggravate your skin. There's also a fragrance that some people might not like.

Because the Neutrogena sunblock has actual sunblock (as well as sunscreen to protect from those UV rays) in it, the first time I tried it I was worried about having a haze of tiny white particles all over me - which has happened before with cheaper sunblocks. However, this worked fine on me. And, even better, the reviews I've read of the SPF 55 indicate it is clear on very dark skin as well. Note - the SPF 70 isn't as good about that so you might want to try a sample or tester of it if you have very dark skin and you need that high an SPF.

As a note - SPF is a multiplying factor. It means you need to know how your skin, without protection, behaves when exposed to the sun. You take that base number and then multiply by the SPF - if you can be in the sun for ten minutes and you are looking at an SPF 35 sunblock, you can do that math. You'll have about 5 hours in the sun. The general guidance is to choose the lowest SPF that works for you, by the way.

Also, let's be real. Sunblock washes off. It sweats off. It rubs off. You can't just slap it on once and then expect to be okay for the next day and a half. And remember, we're constantly exposed to the sun during the day. Reapply this shit, especially if you've just gotten out of the water or taken off your clothes. Toss it in your pool bag.

You probably won't be happy with this next suggestion: if you're going to be spending a lot of time sitting in the sun, wear long sleeves. I know, I know, you're hot and you're sweaty. But I promise, if you get lightweight, breathable fabrics that don't fit tightly, you won't be any hotter than you would be naked. I mean, there comes a point where it's just going to be hot no matter what you wear. Why be hot and sunburned at the same time?

I have a wicked long list of allergies, the downside of which is that when my system gets overloaded and I go out into the sun, I break out into a painful and very not at all attractive rash on my arms and chest. It's so sexy. Except for how it totally isn't. Also, did I mention that it's painful? Wearing long sleeves is basically the only way around this for a large part of the summer.

Of course there are a couple of other ways to block the sun but you've kind of got to commit to the style of them to make it work. That's right, I'm talking about sun hats and parasols.

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This works when you stand under it.

Sun hats are amazing. I don't mean, like, golf visors. Those are just the keep the sun out of your eyes so you can watch your ball hook off into the water hazard. I'm talking wide-brimmed straw sun hats. Hats are awesome and because they come in so many varieties, you can almost always find something that works for you. I recommend straw over cloth because you lose a lot of heat through your head - you don't want to block that process when it's already freaking hot outside.

As for parasols, well, you could just carry your umbrella. You'd be prepared for summer rainstorms that way. But parasols can be made of so many other materials that it seems like a waste of an opportunity not to go all out.

Obviously, some people are really into tans. There are more fake tanning options, which are often the best of both worlds for people who are into the aesthetic.

(I've had tans in the past, and I'm actually really fascinated by tan lines. But, uh, I'm not into it enough to actually apply a fake tan.)

I can clearly imagine myself, sitting under this Battenburg lace parasol, wearing something gauzy as it flows in the sea air, with a neon pedicure, eating a popsicle. You are totally welcome to join me with sun protection of your own. I have a good imagination.