7 Summery Ways to Protect Your Skin

I'm not going to lie — I love tan skin. Naturally "blessed" with a speckled Scottish complexion, I've always been jealous of people whose skin browns beautifully in the sun, rather than simply burning to a crisp like mine. Darker skin is slimming, darn it, and I just love the way it looks. That said, I'm absolutely against tanning, even though I love the way tanned skin looks. Tanned skin is damaged skin. We're not talking about sunburns or naturally darker skin, but tans acquired through exposure to UVA and UVB rays.

When skin is exposed to UV rays, it reacts by producing melanin. Melanin is the same pigment that gives people all over the world varying shades of skin tone. Some people naturally produce a great deal more melanin, which results in darker skin. The presence of additional melanin isn't injurious; it simply indicates that your skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself against further damage. (See also: 5 Best Skin Car Tips for People on a Budget)

Those of us who bask in the sun or pay good money to lie in a tanning booth are doing real and permanent harm to our epidermis.

Now, you may be thinking that you don't see any evidence of damage to your skin, so people should call the heck down. Plus, the allure of tanned skin is so obvious — it speaks of idle time spent outside. I don't mean to suggest that you shouldn't spend time out of doors, because of course you should. You need SOME sun, for Pete's sake, to get that vitamin D that we are all chronically low on. However, to avoid skin cancer, painful burns, and premature wrinkles, it makes sense to take precautions when exposed to the sun. Here are some ways to keep the bad UVs at bay while still enjoying the great outdoors.

1. Use Sunscreens and/or Sunblock

You've probably heard by now that buying SPF 100+ sunscreen is a bit of a scam — the highest possible protection that sunscreen can offer is SPF 50, so don't spend money on any sunscreen that claims otherwise. Also, please pay attention to the type of sunscreen you are purchasing. The type is determined by the active ingredients — the chemicals and compounds that protect you from the sun's UV rays. Here are Consumer Search ratings of the most popular sunscreens. If you go use a lot of sunblock, check out Carrie's article on the most cost-effective sunblock on the market.

The last thing to note about sunscreen is that you need to use it even when it's not sunny — you can still get a sunburn on a cloudy day, and anyone who has ever been skiing in Utah probably recalls the first massive winter sunburn to the face. Sunscreen for daily use is an absolute must — sunblock for days when you are spending time doing outdoor sports or hanging out at the beach is the best move you can make.

2. Wear Long, Light Clothing

From linen slacks to tunics to maxi dresses, today's fashion has something for everyone who wants to keep their dermis protected. Look for summer clothing made of cotton or cotton blends, and keep it loose and light in color. My husband also swears by the breathability of silk, although it's not a fabric I prefer.

Sometimes, wearing less clothing is simply a must, such as while swimming. Be certain to continually re-apply sunblock every couple of hours, and stay under a palapa or cabana when not splashing in the surf. Beach cover-ups and sarongs are good ways to cover your tush while remaining cool.

3. Add Some Accessories

Hats and sunglasses are pretty common summer wear, and the great thing about giant sunglasses and huge floppy hats is that they allow you to protect your skin while looking like a petulant movie star who doesn't want the paparazzi to get in the way.

A light cotton scarf is another good way to keep bare shoulders covered when in the sun. A cotton or linen pashmina provides light sun protection while allowing you enough movement to maximize air flow.

Hats and sunglasses are also a must-have for kids (see below), so don't forget to outfit your offspring with protective accessories.

4. Use a Parasol or Umbrella

Parasols aren't just for tropical drinks anymore. While it may strike you as quaint and old-fashioned, the umbrella is a wonderful way to keep the sun off of your skin. And hey, if popular culture can tolerate the return of kettlebell exercises and overwrought mustaches, we can certainly appropriate the parasol from the Victorian era. Paper parasols offer sun protection and style for cheap.

5. Keep Kiddos Covered

Start your kids off with a lifelong habit of sun protection — in addition to smearing those little rugrats with sunblock, be sure to provide your stroller-bound bambinos with shade. Many strollers already come equipped with collapsible stroller covers, but if your stroller doesn't have one, do some online shopping and find one that will fit your stroller model.

Whether you're at the zoo, park, beach, or just out and about, keep kids' heads covered with a hat or cap that has a decent-sized brim. Hats not only make it easy to identify your kids at a glance, but they protect little scalps, faces, and necks from seriously painful sunburns.

6. Stay in the Shade

Shaded outdoor areas aren't just a good idea for sun protection — they're an all-around practical place to entertain family, neighbors, and friends. If your yard lacks good shade trees or your patio is completely exposed to the sun, consider purchasing a cabana or camping canopy to provide cover and comfort when spending spending the day out of doors.

In my family, the outdoor gathering area was underneath a grape arbor, where vines that grew up and over the structure that my father built gave us shade from the sun and protection from summer storms.

Whether the shade you use is naturally provided or shipped to you via FedEx, staying out of the sun's direct rays is both smart and comfortable.

7. Exercise in the Dark

Getting up before the sun to run through the streets can be difficult, but exercising outside of daylight hours is smart — not only do you reduce your exposure to harmful UV rays, but you're getting your workout during cooler hours, meaning that you're less likely to suffer from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Nighttime exercise is fun — you just have to take some precautions when running or biking after dark. Make sure to use reflective clothing or vests, for instance, have a good headlamp and distress whistle, and carry a cell phone with you for emergencies. Exercising with a partner is always smart, no matter what time of day.

If you live near a wooded area, you can take advantage of natural leaf canopies to exercise in a cooler location, especially if exercising before or after daylight isn't an option for you. Be certain to wear sweat-resistant sunscreen if you do exercise during daylight hours.

If all else fails, or you live too far north to take advantage of non-daylight hours, there is no shame in going to the gym. I know that we here at Wise Bread tend to applaud people who save money by not going to the gym, but I have a gym membership, and even though I use it year-round, it's particularly wonderful for those times of the year when exercising outside simply isn't a reasonable option.

How do you keep your skin protected from the sun during the warmer months? Tell us in the comments!

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Guest's picture

Not leaving my home works for me,.

Andrea Karim's picture

Being a shut-in does wonders for the skin!

Meg Favreau's picture

A friend of mine started having problems with skin cancer before she turned 30. It's scary stuff. After moving to (wonderfully sunny) Southern CA, I finally gave in and started wearing moisturizer that already has sunscreen in it. One of the best investments I've made in the last few months!

Andrea Karim's picture

It would be especially hard to fight the urge to brown my hide a little if I were in Los Angeles. The beaches, they call to me. :)

Guest's picture

I'm a fair skinned gal, so I was familiar with most of these, but I had a forehead-slapping moment when I read, "Exercise in the Dark." Seriously. I can't believe I never thought of that. Brilliant! Thanks for the helpful post.

Guest's picture

Your skin is very important to your health and most people take it for granted

Guest's picture

Good tips! I remember reading a magazine article that listed what was good and not nearly as good during the summertime regarding skim protection. It said that even if you are inside your house (but the windows are open) you are still getting too much sun if you don't have sun protection on. I think that's crazy! It also said that screen doors don't help and wearing clothes don't nearly as help. Of course, wearing clothes, being inside, having a hat on and so on are better than nothing :)

Andrea Karim's picture

Well, I imagine that if you are sitting in a sunbeam inside, you're getting as much UV light as you would outside, but if you're just inside but not actually in a direct beam of light, then you are probably safer than you would be in the sun outside. Sort of like sitting in the shade.

The one place that lots of people get sun exposure is the car - it's pretty much a fishbowl, with all the windows. Depending on the length of your commute, it can be a healthy dose of daily sun, or a massive exposure to UV rays.

Guest's picture

You shouldn't protect your skin during summer only. You need to protect it everyday. I'm taking omega 3 Fish oil extra everyday to make my skin soften and also make my skin looks younger. I also drink plenty of water and eat vegetables and fruits. I don't eat oily and fatty foods. I also avoid sun exposures.

Guest's picture

How about just avoid being outside if possible between 10am - 2pm?