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A Dermatologist’s Guide to Sun Protection and Sunscreen for Summer

Consider this your official, dermatologist-approved permission to spend time outdoors this summer. “It’s OK to have fun in the sun, as long as you are sun smart,” says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

At Allure, we write a lot (a lot) about the dangers of UV rays. Plenty of people are still uneducated about the health hazards that can come from tanning or going outside without proper sun protection (see: someone who’s had 86 skin cancer removal surgeries). But here, we tend to skew in the other direction. After reading so much about skin cancer and sun damage, just spending an afternoon in the park can feel anxiety-inducing. To help, we asked the pros how they survive the summer months, and it turns out, dermatologists do go to the beach. They just wear way more than a bathing suit when they do.

“I may be a dermatologist, but I still want to enjoy life outdoors when the weather is warm,” says Zeichner. That’s exactly what we needed to hear. We asked him and his fellow dermatologists to list all the ways they protect themselves from the summer sun. These tips may be extra…but, let’s be honest, so are UV rays. Read on for all the ways the pros avoid the sun; and keep in mind, these tips double as the list of reasons why your dermatologist’s skin is so radiant.

1. Always be prepared.

Good sun care starts with, well, owning sunscreen. New York City-based dermatologist Ariel Ostad always makes sure to pack more sunscreen than he plans to use. “Better to be over-prepared than under-prepared,” he says.

Wise words, especially if you’ve ever been burned by the price of gift-shop sunscreen. (Or you’re a beauty editor dermatologist whose friends rely on you to bring the goods.)

2. Make sure sunscreen is always readily available.

Shari Marchbein, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine in New York City, always keeps sunscreen in her purse — but not just there. She also stashes bottles in accessible areas around her home: “The front closet, so it’s the last thing I put on my kids before they head off to camp in the morning; the garage, so I can grab it and applying before heading to the beach; and the bathroom so I can liberally apply before putting on my bathing suit and rash guard.”

Heat and humidity can accelerate the breakdown of sunscreen, she notes, so make sure that your bottles live in a cool and dry place (like your garage).

3. Apply before you hit the sun.

After you’ve woken up early, packed a beach bag, transported yourself to the beach, and found a good spot, the last thing anyone wants to do is pause and apply sunscreen before jumping in the water. Ostad instead applies the first layer of sunscreen while getting ready indoors. “I find that I get a better application when I don’t have to worry about winds blowing around, and I’m able to really focus and make sure I cover every inch of skin,” he says.

He still reapplies throughout the day, but with that first base layer of protection properly applied, the day starts out safe.

4. Set a timer.

You know how the sunscreen bottle reads “Reapply every two hours”? Dermatologists actually do it. “My wife and I both set alarms on our phones to remind us to reapply sunscreen,” says Zeichner. “It’s really easy to forget to reapply, and a single application before you go to the beach is just not enough to protect you for a full day.”

5. Powder your nose.

When your sunscreen alarm does go off, Marchbein retouches on her face with powder sunscreens. Brands such as Colorescience and Supergoop offer brush-on sunscreens that double as powder makeup. Powdered sunscreens aren’t strong enough to be used instead of a base layer of lotion, but are helpful for touch-ups over makeup throughout the day.

6. Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), but make it fashion.

UPF clothes are “a lazy person’s sunscreen,” says Zeichner. UPF clothing is made with special fabric that offers the same type of UV-fighting protection as a sunscreen. Zeichner trusts his UPF clothes so much that he doesn’t apply sunscreen underneath, but we don’t recommend that unless you plan to swim in a long-sleeve shirt.


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