Your No-Fry Guide To SPF

Photographed by Christelle De Castro.
Sunscreen recommendations change as frequently as the stock lists at Zara. Thanks to an ever-evolving trifecta of scientific inquiry, FDA regulations, and technology, the way we protect our skin from UV rays advances each season, which means you can’t always rely on last summer’s sunscreen to protect you.
Just last year, new formulas and labeling for many sunscreens hit the shelves (sparked by the FDA’s update to sunscreen regulations in 2012). Sun protection factors (SPF) of more than 50 were repackaged to state 50+, since the actual protection offered by an SPF over 50 is considered negligible. Additionally, to help people clearly understand what an SPF can and can’t do, the term “broad spectrum” was introduced (to indicate that the product contains active ingredients to defend against long-wavelength UVA and short-wavelength UVB rays).
The types of sunscreens that made it into the FDA’s final rule book have also evolved: Sunscreen wipes are widely on their way out. Because the convenient application didn’t make it into the FDA’s sunscreen guidelines, sunscreen towelettes require a time-consuming and expensive new drug application to be marketed. And, sprays may follow suit. The FDA is seeking more information about their dosing and efficacy, including how much of the product actually lands on the skin.
Naturally, the constant shift of what’s in, what’s out, what’s most effective, and how formulas are labeled can be dizzying. The fact that most Americans apply up to 50% less sunscreen than recommended, rendering their SPF less effective than what may be labeled on the package, only emphasizes that we still have lots to learn when it comes to sun protection. All in all, it's pretty confusing.
So, we spoke with Dr. Ali Hendi, skin-cancer specialist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center, about how to guard your body against UV rays. From the right sunscreen to use on your scalp to the best way to layer sun protection with your makeup, the full SPF scoop is straight ahead.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dermalogica.
BB, CC, and DD creams have made SPF-ing the face a no-brainer bonus on the way to evenly pigmented, moisturized skin. But, sometimes, they can leave us wanting when it comes to protection against skin cancer. While these multi-benefit products can help absorb and reflect UV rays, Hendi suggests layering a broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher under your makeup, being careful to apply a dime-size amount to your cheeks, forehead, ears, and nose and chin area. The trick, he says, is finding a sunscreen to layer that sits well with your makeup. “Some sunscreens have a great texture, while others are very oily,” he says. “It’s about finding the texture you like that allows you to put makeup over it without affecting the texture of the skin and the appearance of your skin after you’ve applied the product.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Sephora.
When it comes to our lips, many of us think presentation over preservation. We may be used to putting on lipstick every day, but when in the sun, we forget to cover our pouts. Since the convex curve of our lower lip, as Hendi points out, is right in the pathway of UV rays, it gets a lot of sun. Research shows that the lower lip is 12 times more likely to be affected by UV rays that cause cancer. And, according to a 25-year retrospective study on lip-cancer patients, 81% of their cancer affected this area of the mouth. So, swipe on a lip balm with SPF 30+, and be sure to keep applying throughout the day.
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Photo: Courtesy of Walgreens.
For those of us blessed with a healthy head of hair, the thought of working sunscreen into the scalp can be enough of a nuisance to make us skip the whole messy endeavor altogether. But, Hendi points out that he does see female patients who develop skin cancer on their scalp. Second to wearing a hat, Hendi says the easiest way for someone who is not bald to cover this part of the head with a sunscreen is by using a spray. “It’s challenging for women because it’s hard to get sunscreen in there without leaving a residue in the hair,” he admits. “It’s about finding a product that will cover the scalp but not leave that much of a residue.”
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Photo: Courtesy of QVC.
We beauty writers like to think we know it all when it comes to treating and protecting our skin. But, in the case of applying sunscreen to our hands, we’ve been getting it all wrong: It turns out, simply spreading leftover sunscreen that remains on our digits after loading up our faces with lotion isn’t enough. Hendi suggests we apply a dime-size dollop of sunscreen to the back of each hand for adequate protection, reminding us that our paws are particularly exposed to UVA rays (which can penetrate glass) when driving.
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Photo: Courtesy of Supergoop!
A dedicated sunscreen for around the eye area isn’t vital, but here’s where it can help: According to Hendi, some formulations with physical active ingredients (like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) tend not to run into the eyes and cause stinging. What’s more, angled applicators can help distribute SPF in a more targeted way. “Most people put sunscreen on by rubbing it into the palm of their hands, then rub it over their entire face,” Hendi says. “And, the areas that are really concave, like under the eye, don’t really get hit.” For more even coverage, Hendi suggests applying a pea-size portion around each of your peepers before applying SPF to the rest of the face.
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Photo: Courtesy of Raw Elements.
Just like your lower lip, your feet fall right in the pathway of UV rays, especially with midday sun, says Hendi. “That’s an area that’s often underprotected, and you can get skin cancer there, obviously, just like anywhere else.” He suggests working at least a dime-size amount of sunscreen into the tops of the feet.

Raw Elements Organic Eco Formula 30+, $19, available at Whole Foods stores.
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Photo: Courtesy of CVS.
Tattooed Skin
Oftentimes, the drive to thwart UV rays from hitting tattooed skin is about keeping colors vibrant and ink fresh. But, multicolored skin can inherently prevent early skin-cancer detection. “The concern with tattooed skin is that the skin is of a different color. Skin cancers can potentially arise there, which is unrelated to the tattoo itself but is right in the area of the tattoo. It may not be seen or diagnosed early, and that’s the concern,” Hendi says. “Make sure you use sunscreen, and be aware of the tattoo, inspecting it for any new lumps or changes in color with a once-a-month skin exam.”

What’s more, when using a sunscreen stick, which can be great for covering hard-to-reach tattoos, Hendi suggests rubbing in the formula with your fingers after application as a way of ensuring even protection.
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