The sun provides warmth, light and tans. It also provides burns, wrinkles, spots and skin cancer. For a happy summer in the sun, we've put together an ultimate sunscreen guide -- an everything-you-need-to-know handbook that covers this year's new products, expiration dates and proper application, to ensure that you enjoy a burn-free summer.
Five new products
Every summer, the shelves fill up with new sun-protection products promising to be better than ever. Here are five of this year's most notable offerings.
Neutrogena Wet Skin Sunblock Spray, SPF 30
Neutrogena is defying sunscreen logic with its line of Wet Skin Sunblock Spray. The new formula promises to protect when sprayed on fresh-from-the-pool bodies. $9.99, Tom Thumb.
Coppertone Water Babies Delicate Foaming Lotion, SPF 75+
There was lotion, spray, balm and stick -- and now there's foam. Coppertone's new foaming lotion is hypoallergenic and waterproof. Its SPF 75+ formula is perfect for babies' sensitive skin. $8.09, Target.
Bull Frog Water Armor Sport Quik Gel, SPF 50
Bull Frog boasts that its new line of Water Armor Sport sunscreen is up to four times more waterproof than the brand's previous formulas, making it durable through even the most vigorous outdoor activities. The gel version goes on quickly, dries fast and is oil-free. $8.99, Walgreens.
Lavanila The Healthy Sun Screen SPF 30 Body Cream
Lavanila offers a natural, chemical-free formula for fighting harsh rays. The Healthy Sun Screen is made with green tea, organic shea butter and soothing cucumber -- ingredients meant to nourish and hydrate while offering UVA and UVB protection. $38, Sephora, North East Mall, Hurst.
Clarins Sunscreen for Face Wrinkle Control Cream, SPF 50+
Clarins' new formula serves two purposes: It's meant to protect the face from burns, and prevent sun-induced aging, like wrinkles and sunspots. This slightly pricier potion is face-specific, meaning you'll have to find another lotion for the rest of your body. $30, Sephora, North East Mall, Hurst.
How to choose the lotion for you
Standing in front of the drugstore's sunscreen selection can be daunting. There are creams, sprays, foams, mists and sticks. There are oil-based and nonoily solutions. There are formulas for anti-aging, some that are waterproof and others meant only for the face. And the prices range from a $2 lip balm to $40-plus for fancier lotions.
David Hensley, a dermatologist at Metroplex Dermatology in Arlington, says the most important sunscreen decision is to wear it, but he also notes that it doesn't make you immune to the sun.
"Use it as a tool to help protect your skin, but it's not armor," he says. "It doesn't make you bulletproof."
To really protect skin from harmful rays, Hensley advises his patients to wear protective clothing and to temper sun exposure with time in the shade.
But wearing sunscreen is still important, so here's how to pick the right one:
Know your skin. If your face or body is sensitive to products, Hensley suggests a physical formula rather than a chemical one. Physical formulas will have either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as an active ingredient, he said. Chemical blends can be as effective, but they tend to sting when applied to sensitive areas.
Opt for a broad-spectrum formula. Different ingredients block different types of rays, says Jack Cohen, a dermatologist at Keller Dermatology. A sunscreen that only protects from UVA rays, for example, is not as effective as one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Bottle labels usually note which rays are blocked -- the more listed, the better.
Face-specific sunscreens aren't necessary. Hensley says putting a full-body formula on your face is just fine. Face formulas do serve a purpose, though. If you have sensitive skin, or prefer a nonoily lotion for your face, they can be a good idea.
Spray, lotion or stick -- take your pick. There are benefits to each, but none is superior, Cohen says. "It doesn't matter if you use a spray, a lotion or a cream. It's just a matter of putting on enough," he said.
Stick with SPF 30 and above. Hensley says he likes SPF 45, but anything above 30 should suffice. Why? "Even if not applied as frequently as needed, it will still be effective," he says.
How to apply
We've all done it. Certain we had protected every square centimeter of skin on our bodies, we arrive home with the top of out feet scalding and the tips of our ears burning pink. So here are step-by-step instructions to prevent a painful sunscreen faux pas.
Apply before you get dressed. If you're headed to the pool for the afternoon, oil up before you put on your suit. That way, if your swimsuit straps shift or the legs of your shorts roll up while you're seated, you're still protected.
Don't forget to hit eyelids, ears, feet and, for women, the décolletage, and for men, the top of the head. Hensley said those are the spots forgotten most often. If you have long hair, pull it up to get the back of the neck. For those with bangs, don't miss the forehead.
Rub oil-free lotion on your hair part or wear a hat to avoid scalp burns.
Use more than you think you need. Hensley says it should be easy to go through a bottle of sunscreen in a day or two if you're applying as much (lots) and as often (almost hourly, or after you get wet) as you should be. Cohen says to use a thick layer to avoid the streaky burns caused by a too-thin application.
If using a spray, watch the weather. Hensley says he loves spray-on lotions, but they can be misapplied if it's too windy. Be careful that the sunscreen is ending up where it's supposed to.
Protection in a pocket
In the Texas summer, the sun is tough to avoid. Here are a few throw-in-your-purse sunscreens that will prevent an SPF crisis.
Supergoop Sunscreen Swipes, SPF 30: These Supergoop towelettes with zinc are a must-have for any glove compartment, beach tote or golf bag. The wipes are formulated for sensitive skin and are water-resistant, perfect for simultaneously brushing sand off children and lathering them up with SPF. $34, Sephora, North East Mall, Hurst.
Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid, SPF 50: Neutrogena's new liquid sun block is the perfect size for purses. The lightweight and fragrance-free liquid is naturally sourced, which makes it ideal for sensitive skin. $11.04, Ulta.
Blistex Five Star Lip Protection: Blistex's newest formula is meant to protect lips from all harsh weather conditions. The balm is laced with wheat germ oil that provides moisture to heat-stressed lips and SPF 30 that provides UVA and UVB sun protection. $2.19, Tom Thumb.
When sunscreen goes bad
Most dermatologists say expired sunscreen shouldn't be an issue -- you should use up those bottles long before they reach the date. But for those of us who have shelves of half-used lotions, or found a partially used spray can in last summer's pool bag, expiration dates can be useful. Hensley says to follow the dates, or if there isn't one, discard after a year or two.
The best way to tell if a lotion is still potent is to put a little on -- if the lotion is breaking apart or overly oily, it has likely gone bad. Sunscreens that are left in hot temperatures (the back of a car or boat, or on a shelf in the garage) decompose faster -- if you have a bottle left over from spring break that has been left outside, it may already have lost its effectiveness.