By ALEXANDRA MATZKO

All of my Southern friends are sun worshippers who value a good summer tan, and I don’t hold that against them. However, I’m the first to dispel their unfounded belief that a healthy application of sunscreen prevents the development of a tan. No SPF is strong enough to completely block out the sun. The sun is powerful. Lay out for enough time, and you’re going to get bronzed. It’s inevitable. And, furthermore, sunscreen isn’t just for that day at the pool or beach.

Though I’m loathe to call myself a hypocrite, I’ve heard the sermons on daily sun protection for many years, but, though I obsessively apply sunscreen while wearing a bathing suit, I’ve overlooked it in my daily self-care routine for most of my twenties. However, little, unwelcome fine lines are beginning to appear on my forehead, and I’ve taken to daily sun-screening of my face like a religious zealot. Defense against the sun is the most powerful tool in our preventative, anti-aging arsenal, and we—especially those of us with fairer skin—need all the help we can get.

If the vanity argument isn’t doing it for you, here’s another: cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, sun overexposure damages the DNA in skin cells, which may lead to these cells becoming cancerous in the future. No bueno.

Plus, getting sunburnt is just miserable. The discomfort of warm shower water on your tender skin. The peeling like some sci-fi experiment gone wrong. The painful digging of summer clothing into your red, chafed shoulders. No thank you.

So, how to protect yourself while also avoiding some of the unhealthy chemicals in our self-care products? The Environment Working Group website has a wonderful resource called the Skin Deep Database. It has over 80,000 health and beauty products ranked from 1-10 in levels of toxicity and a large library of ingredient information. It isn’t perfect, but it has the most comprehensive and up-to-date information about side effects and dangers of chemicals in our everyday beauty products. I heavily rely on it while making these types of purchases.

Next, what the heck do those SPF (sun protection factor) numbers mean anyway? Well, the number is a result of this formula:

minutes of a fair-skinned person to burn without sunscreen x SPF number = maximum sun exposure time before needing a reapplication

For example: 10 minutes x 15 (SPF 15) = 150 minutes without burning and needing a reapplication

However, this equation isn’t always accurate. Why? Human error. People don’t understand just how much sunscreen is required to attain this perfect result. Use at least an ounce (one shot glass’s worth) of sunscreen per application, and follow all application and reapplication guidelines correctly for optimum protection.

Finally, there are different kinds of sunscreens: physical and chemical. Physical sun blockers come from minerals like zinc, which gives this type of sunscreen its trademark white color. Chemicals blockers are transparent, but they take more time to activate, about 15 minutes, so be aware that you’re SPF free for those first minutes in the sun if you go the chemical route. I prefer the physical blocker, but that does mean I deal with a slight white cast in some of these sunscreens, but that’s just fine with me.

These are my linked recommendations of sunscreens for face and body with a variety of price points, finishes, and healthy ingredients; all, except one, score between a 1-2 on the EWG toxicity scale.

Face

1. Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 50 $6.39 – Neutrogena is a staple skincare brand, and it’s super easy to find at any local store. I love how matte the finish of this product is and how strong it is. I rely on this if I’m spending a full day at the pool or beach.

2. Pratima Neem Rose Face Sunscreen SPF 30 $36.00 – This is my daily sunscreen. It doesn’t break me out, its finish is pretty matte, it doesn’t leave a white cast despite containing zinc as a physical blocker, and the ingredients are really clean. One pump gets my full face covered and ready for the day.

3. Jane Iredale PurePressed Base Mineral Foundation SPF 20 $42.00 – Mineral powder products are great options for daily SPF wear or for reapplication of SPF over makeup. They do the double duty of being both a makeup and sunscreen. This powder it great for overlaying on top of my daily liquid sunscreen to re-up my protection. By the end of the day, your morning application of SPF will have worn off.

4. Suntegrity 5-in-1 Tinted Sunscreen SPF 30 $45.00 – This is the liquid version of a double duty foundation and sunscreen. It’s a little dewier than the other offerings on this list—good for dry skin. It also comes in a variety of shades.

5. Marie Veronique Everyday Coverage Tinted SPF 30 $48.00 – Gifted this to my mom a few years ago when she was looking for a new, natural foundation, and she likes it a lot. It’s a little drying or weirdly textured for me, so I wouldn’t recommend it for oilier skin types. The coverage is pretty good.

Body

1. Alba Botanica Sport Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, SPF 45 $9.44 – This is the only chemical sunscreen on the list. Though this scores a 3 in terms of “toxic ingredients,” it is long-lasting and doesn’t leave any white cast. If the others on this list have too strong a white-hue for you, definitely give this one a shot. I just picked up a refill for myself! I trust it wholeheartedly for a full day (with reapplication) of sun, even down in Florida or the Caribbean.

2. Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPF 50 $10.97 – Again, Neutrogena is tried and tested in suncare. The only downside of this tube is that I go through it way too quickly.

3. Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Lotion Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin, SPF 50 $12.15 – This is perfect for little ones! You know it won’t cause them any irritation, and it’s got a high SPF. It’s also good if you’ve got especially sensitive skin.

4. Caribbean Solutions Sol Sol Guard, SPF 30 $12.61 – I love this brand, but I reserve it for times when I’m not getting super intensive sun exposure. Though it claims to be waterproof, I wouldn’t rely on it if I’m spending over 3+ hours out at the pool, even if I reapply. So, why do I like it? The ingredients are super clean, and it’s perfect for slapping on during gardening or a long walk/hike.

5. Kiss My Face Organics Kids Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 $14.88 – Another great brand that you can even find in stores like Whole Foods or Kroger. It’s a physical blocker sunscreen, so it might leave a white cast, but it is full of great ingredients and perfect for anyone with sensitive skin.

This summer don’t sacrifice the health and appearance of your skin for some unattainable glow. Soak up rays the safe way, or even opt for a fake tanning lotion if you’re really not getting the bronze you want. And, slather on that sunscreen!