Sunscreen is one of those things that, growing up in a part of the country where tanning was encouraged, I never gave a second thought. I’d get one raging, miserable sunburn at the beginning of summer, it would settle out into a tan, and I’d call it good. Once I was a teenager, my mother started dragging me to the tanning salon to develop a “base tan” to keep me from burning, never once advising me to wear sunscreen and stay out of the sun. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s and living in the Caribbean that I got serious about it, after having a “probably cancerous” mole removed (they went ahead and removed it to be on the safe side, and I’ve never had an issue since). So I’ve heard most of the excuses for not wearing sunscreen, and I’ve used most of them. So let’s talk about some of these, and why they shouldn’t hold you back from protecting your skin.
1. “My makeup already has SPF15.” Ok, so you think that if you are using half the recommended SPF, you’re only going to get half a melanoma? The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a bare minimum of SPF 30 with broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection. Plus, I promise you that you aren’t applying enough of your makeup to even get that full SPF15 rating out of it–you need at least half a teaspoon of sunscreen to cover your face alone, and about a shot glass sized amount to cover all the exposed areas of your body. You’d be hating life if you packed that much makeup on.
2. “I’m too dark to need sunscreen.” The guy I lived with in St. Croix used to use that line. My response was always the same: “Bob Marley was darker than you and died of melanoma.” While Marley’s melanoma was a type that occurs due to genetic misfires rather than sun damage, the fact remains that among people who do develop skin cancer, people of color are a lot less likely to survive it than white people. For people with darker skin tones, I would recommend a gel sunscreen with chemical filters, rather than a mineral sunscreen that can leave an ashy-looking white cast. One of the most popular gel formulas in the Asian skincare community is Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence from Japan ($21.49 for a 2-pack, Amazon). This was reformulated for 2017, but Amazon’s US warehouses aren’t stocking the 2017 version yet. However, sunscreen generally has a three year shelf life, so you will be fine ordering the older version.
3. “I don’t have money for another product in my routine.” Biopsies cost hundreds of dollars. By comparison, if you can’t afford the $10-20 for a mid-range sunscreen, it’s okay to get one of the $5 ones at Marshalls or TJMaxx (just check the expiration dates first) or even pick one up at the dollar store. As long as you’re getting a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least the minimum protection level, anything is going to be better than going without.
4. “I’m already wrinkled enough now that it doesn’t matter.” My grandma says this, and it drives me up the wall. Again, there’s a lot more to sun damage than just spots and wrinkles. If it were just about skin showing cosmetic damage, I’d say to rock every line and every spot, and to hell with anyone who wants to criticize. But skin cancer is a totally different risk.
5. “I can’t stand that sunscreen smell.” There are plenty of brands out there making unscented sunscreens. All the ones by Clinique are fragrance free, as well as most of the ones that claim to be hypoallergenic. Also, what we think of in the US as the “sunscreen scent” is very much a cultural thing. If you don’t want the cocoa butter and fake coconut fragrance but still want a pleasant scent, look for a French or Korean sunscreen brand. I have Korean sunscreens from Missha and The Face Shop coming in the mail, and I’m excited to try them.
6. “I can’t bend enough to apply it evenly on the backs of my arms.” Look, I completely understand having issues with how you can and can’t move. I’ve been using spray sunscreens on my body off and on for years, because the damage to the joint capsule in my shoulder often makes it uncomfortable to do too much twisting or reaching with that arm. I’ve had excellent luck with Kiss My Face Continuous Spray Kids, because children’s formulas tend to be gentler on sensitive skin. However, this is still a chemical sunscreen, so be careful with it around your eyes if you don’t want to be in pain for the rest of the day. ($15, Walgreens)
7. “I can’t reapply sunscreen like I’m supposed to without messing up my makeup.” This is a big one, and I was thrilled when I learned about a workaround for it! Supergoop makes a number of fantastic sunscreen products, but one of my favorites is their Defense Refresh Setting Mist SPF50 ($8-28, Supergoop). A few quick spritzes on the face, and your sunscreen is refreshed without any impact on the makeup you’re wearing. It’s not cheap, but it works.
8. “Sunscreen is too greasy and breaks me out.” If you can’t use a traditional lotion or are sensitive to chemical filters, the one I’m currently using is probably going to be your best bet. I’ve talked about this one before, but it really is the best American drugstore sunscreen I’ve found. Neutrogena Pure and Free Liquid Sunscreen ($12.99, Ulta) is non-greasy, fragrance-free, and uses only physical filters (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) rather than the chemical versions that make many people break out. It’s also easy to find, unlike some of the fancier brands. If you decide to look at other options, look for ones that have titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as the active ingredients, and oil-free formulas that do not contain signifiant amounts of cyclopentasiloxane or cyclohexasiloxane, which can contribute to breakouts.
9. “Lotions set off my sensory issues.” Your sensory issues are 100% valid, and I am not here to criticize you for having them. If squirting or spraying something wet onto your skin isn’t going to work for you, you have options. The most economical is going to be a stick sunscreen like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face and Body Stick ($8.69, Target), which glides on just like deodorant, and as an added bonus, the SPF70 rating is the highest on this list. (I know I’m repeating myself by recommending two Neutrogena products in a row, but they make a solid, reliable product that is easy to find and easy to afford.) If that still causes discomfort, you can also try a powder formula, like Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral ($30, Sephora).
10. “I’ve heard sunscreen is bad for the environment.” Generally speaking, that’s not correct. There are three exceptions that I can think of, off the top of my head, and none of them apply to all or even most formulas. First, oxybenzone, a common filter in chemical sunscreens, is a bad thing to wear to the beach, because it can contribute to the bleaching of the coral reefs. Avoid that by wearing a mineral sunscreen or one that uses a different chemical filter. Second, some aerosol sprays use carbon compounds as propellants, which can make a minor contribution to atmospheric carbon levels. So if you’re going to use a spray can, look for one that says it’s an “air spray” without chemical propellants. The third is that some lotion-type formulas contain palm oil, and the palm oil industry is largely responsible for the deforestation of endangered orangutan habitats. I generally prefer an oil-free formula anyway, because it tends to sit better under my water-based makeup.