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In the sun for an hour or more?

Maybe you’re training for a marathon, keeping the garden beautiful or just puttering around outside your weekend home. Whatever the reason, if you’re out for an hour or longer while the sun’s shining, you need serious protection, experts say. Every doctor we spoke with recommended scalp-to-toe coverage with a sun-shielding product that’s water resistant (to minimize rub-off), an SPF of 30 (or higher) and "broad spectrum" coverage. (Broad spectrum, indicated on the label, means the product blocks skin-burning UVB rays as well as skin-aging UVA rays. Both types of rays can cause skin cancer.) And don’t assume your clothing is sufficient coverage. "A typical white T-shirt has about an SPF of 3, providing little protection against UVB rays and virtually no defense against UVAs," says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, MD, PhD, a New York City dermatologist and scientist. For outings longer than an hour, most doctors also advocate choosing a formula that contains UVA-blocking ingredients, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Called physical blockers, these ingredients literally shield your skin from rays, just as the walls of your house do, and they remain stable in the sun. By contrast, chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as Parsol 1789 and avobenzone, absorb rather than block UVA rays. They too are effective at minimizing UVA exposure, but studies show that some products can become destabilized after prolonged sun exposure. If the formula you choose contains only chemical sunscreen, you must reapply it every two hours to ensure protection. And when you’re in and out of water or sweating a lot, you should reapply any sun protection every two to three hours, whether it’s a chemical or physical formula. If reapplication is impractical-or you think you’ll forget-wearing clothing designed to be sun protective provides extra insurance. "I like a line called Solumbra sunprecautions.com," Alexiades-Armenakas says. "The clothes have an SPF of 30, and they’re not frumpy. I wear their wide brim crusher hat [$53] in Manhattan and constantly get stopped and asked where it’s from." Dark, tightly woven clothing also provides some measure of protection, says Jessica Wu, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California, though any fabric should be viewed as a backup, not primary sun protection. Wu also says that applying or ingesting antioxidants, such as green tea, vitamin C or new-to-the-U.S. Heliocare supplements ($60; drugstore.com), is believed to both help improve the stability of chemical sunscreens and help fight off the oxidative damage that occurs as a result of sun exposure (oxidative damage is what causes accelerated aging of our skin, as well as cancer). Many sunscreens hitting shelves this summer have been reformulated with antioxidants for this purpose. But remember these suggestions are backups, not your primary line of defense.
Photo: Todd Huffman

Laboratoire Remède Translucent UV Coat SPF 30

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Invisible Zinc 4-Hour Water Resistant Sunscreen

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Shiseido Extra Smooth Cream for Face SPF 38

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SkinMedica Environmental Defense Sunscreen SPF 30

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Outdoors for an hour or less?

Maybe you like to eat lunch in the park near your office, or you sit at a computer next to a sunny window, or you spend most of the day at the wheel of your car. Even if your sun exposure is not direct or extended, "you really should still wear a broad-spectrum SPF 30 every day," says Patricia Wexler, MD, a New York City dermatologist. "It’s better to be safe. UVA rays penetrate clouds and windows. Plus, there is speculation that we might get some UV exposure from fluorescent and infrared lights." So while doctors say you definitely need protection, when it comes to what kind, most take a more relaxed approach. "It matters less whether the formula is physical or chemical during this kind of UV exposure because you probably aren’t in direct sunlight long enough to worry about sunscreen destabilization," says Robin Ashinoff, MD, chief of dermatological laser surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center. She says wearing a face and body moisturizer with SPF 30 should be sufficient, and regular reapplication is probably not necessary. She does stress that you should apply it to all exposed areas, not just your face. Ears, chest, hands, feet and the back of the neck are areas doctors cite as prime spots for skin cancer because they’re often overlooked when we’re lotioning up. If you are going to be sitting outside for 20 minutes or more and it’s been hours since you applied your morning moisturizer with SPF, it’s probably smart to cover exposed areas with a little extra sun protection and, if possible, throw on a hat and sunglasses, says Amy Wechsler, MD, a New York City dermatologist and psychiatrist. If reapplying sunscreen lotion to your face isn’t practical because you don’t want to muss your makeup, you can also dust some translucent mineral powder over your face; most contain the physical blocker titanium dioxide.
Photo: Todd Huffman

Jane Iredale Powder Me Sunscreen SPF 30

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Olay Rx Age Repair Lotion SPF 30

$42; drugstores
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Yes to Carrots Hydrating Body Lotion SPF 30

$9; drugstores
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First Aid Beauty 5 in 1 Face Cream SPF 30

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Don’t plan to be out at all?

Memo to smug sun-avoiders: Think you’re safe? Not necessarily. In fact, you may be at a higher risk of sun damage because you’re most apt to go without any protection, says Diane Berson, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Even though you’re mostly out of harm’s way, most doctors still recommend applying at least a broad-spectrum SPF 15 or keeping a sun protection stick or disposable sunscreen wipes handy to apply on the go. Unless you work in a morgue or in the bowels of a library, you’re likely to still get some incidental exposure via a window, and there is also the possibility of UVA exposure from fluorescent or infrared indoor lighting (mentioned earlier by Wexler). And if you do go out, at least wear UV-protective sunglasses, Wexler advises. "The thin skin near eyes is particularly susceptible to sun damage. I’ve seen a spike in melanoma of the retina and macular degeneration," she says.
Photo: Todd Huffman

ReVive Lip Balm SPF 30

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DDF Advanced Moisture Defense UV Cream

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SuperGoop Quickstick SPF 30

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Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Sun Protection Towel- ettes SPF 30

Photo: Todd Huffman

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