We've all heard the warnings that we’re supposed to protect our skin from the sun. Still, skin cancer diagnosis rates are rising among young people, and one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer within his or her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’ve started slacking on wearing sunscreen now that summer’s winding down, you may want to consider what you’re risking: The deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma, is the most common cancer in women between the ages of 25 and 29. Statistics show that men in their 20s and 30s fare a bit better than their female counterparts, but after the age of 40, their chances of developing skin cancer skyrocket, making it the fifth most common cancer among men.
Contrary to popular belief, the sun’s strength is less dependent on the season than it is on the time of day, says Martin A. Weinstock, M.D., a professor of dermatology at Brown University and chairman of the American Cancer Society’s skin cancer advisory group. He recommends following the “shadow rule”: If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun is strong enough to cause skin damage. During those hours, says Weinstock, you should double your defenses by applying sunscreen 20 minutes before you head out the door, then putting on more after you’ve been outside for 20 minutes (and then another coat every hour — especially if you go in the water).
Weinstock also likes the Australian Cancer Council’s “slip, slop, slap” adage: “Slip on a shirt, slop on a sunscreen, and slap on a hat.”
Tracking down a hat and shirt is easy enough, but how do you choose between the hundreds of sunscreens on store shelves? Most are chemical-based: They absorb UV rays by means of their active substances, like Avobenzone (also known as Parsol 1789). But eco-friendlier and natural options are available, including mineral-based formulas, which contain earth-derived ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and work by reflecting rays away from the skin. Until recently, mineral sunscreens were unpopularly opaque (think white-nosed lifeguards), but they’ve come a long way. There are also sunscreens that contain organic ingredients.
The most important part of sun protection is finding a product you’ll actually use, says Weinstock. Here are Plenty’s picks for year-round protection.
LAVERA SPF 20 ANTI-AGE SUNCREEN
This anti-aging mineral sunscreen, formulated for delicate facial skin, blends titanium dioxide with organic plant oils and witch hazel to hydrate and heal. Appealingly creamy out of the bottle, it absorbs perfectly and leaves behind a barely-there floral scent. Five minutes after application, we couldn’t tell where we’d put it on.
SKINCEUTICALS SPF 30 PHYSICAL UV DEFENSE
Another mineral option, SkinCeuticals’s zinc oxide and titanium dioxide blend is invisible after application. It’s also fragrance free, making it a good choice for anyone who would rather not smell like fruit or flowers. The addition of antioxidant green tea helps soothe and protect sensitive skin.
BOSCIA SPF 15 VITAL DAILY MOISTURE
Boscia's facial lotion — a sweetly scented mix of botanical extracts — is a moisturizer and a sunscreen in one. The vegan, preservative-free formula offers broad-spectrum UV protection, and because it’s water-based, it feels fresher and lighter than any other lotion on our list, making it perfect for sweaty summer days.
JASON SPF 26 SUNBRELLAS COMPLETE SUNBLOCK SPRAY
Jason’s all-natural, water-resistant formula provides broad-spectrum protection, and the spray bottle works from almost any angle, making the ultra-light lotion easy to apply to hard-to-reach areas. Its fuss-free application will appeal to active (and okay, lazy) types.
AUBREY ORGANICS SPF 15 NATURE’S BALANCE HAND & BODY LOTION
It's fine to smell like coconuts and bananas at the beach, but at the office you may not want to give off the scent of a pina colada. For everyday protection, Aubrey offers this unscented organic moisturizer. It’s a lotion first and a sunscreen second, so it goes on smoothly and absorbs quickly.
Story by Erika Villani. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2006. This story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.