While summer is the perfect season for venturing outdoors, one is also at the risk of getting sun-burnt. Most weather forecasts include a UV index which is rated between 0-15; a number range which denotes varying risk levels of sunburn. For example, if you go outdoors under UV 8 conditions without adequate sun protection, you’re likely to get sun-burnt under 30 minutes or less.
And just why does one need protection from the sunlight?
Sunlight contains UV-A and UV-B, shortened terms for long and short-wave Ultraviolet rays (UV-C is absorbed by the Ozone layer) respectively. Prolonged exposure to this combination of UV rays leads to short and long-term skin damage. This occurs regardless of your skin tone.
There’s a common misconception that you don’t need sunscreen or need to wear sunglasses during cloudy days. That is not true. UV rays penetrate the skin even in the absence of direct sunlight. As a precautionary measure, you should apply sunscreen along with a pair of UV-A/B reflecting sunglasses every time you head outdoors.
We suggest dabbing a half-teaspoon of sunscreen each for the face, neck, and both arms – 15 minutes before exposure to the sun. And don’t forget to apply sunscreen over the earlobes and the tip of the nose – these are often overlooked areas of the face.
There are two kinds of sunscreens – chemical-based and mineral-based. Both function differently in the way they protect you from the sun.
A mineral-based sunscreen acts as a blocking layer by reflecting the UV rays. The active ingredients are minerals such as Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide.
On the other hand, a chemical sunscreen stops UV waves by absorbing them. Such sunscreens contain compounds like Octocrylene, Oxybenzene, Octisalate, and Avobenzone.
Because of their composition(s), both exhibit different application behaviors. Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide based creams tend to leave white streaks and are generally require a greater effort to apply and take off. Some of them sting when they enter the eye.
One aspect which we prefer about the latter is that since the mineral stays on the skin, they do not get absorbed into the bloodstream in the manner that chemical sunscreens do.
Chemical sunscreens are far easier to apply. Many of them have the feel and consistency of regular body lotions, and it’s no surprise that they outsell physical sunscreens.
Running and most athletic activities involve perspiration, so water and sweat-resistance are must-have characteristics. Though mineral sunscreens are available in water-resistant versions, we prefer the chemical variety due to their ease of use.
Here are the selection criteria for a good sports sunscreen:
1. Have an SPF (Sun protection factor) of 30+ or higher
2. Broad Spectrum, or its ability to block/absorb UV-A and UV-B rays.
3. Water and sweat resistance rated for 80 minutes.
4. Does not sting the eye during run-offs.
5. No streaking with easy on and off. Should not stain fabrics.
6. Lotion form – these are easier to apply as compared to spray-type sunscreens.
We’re not going to compile a lengthy list of sunscreens – just two chemical sunscreens and one mineral (Zinc Oxide) kind.
1) Best chemical sunscreen: Neutrogena UltraScheer Dry-Touch
We’ve tried multiple products over the years, and we always kept coming back to the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch. This comes in multiple SPF ratings – the one which we are currently using has SPF 60.
The Ultra Sheer is easy to apply over the skin, and it washes off with soap just as effortlessly. When it’s on the skin, it has excellent sweat resistance. We’ve been using this product since 2012 and never been disappointed.
We have even used the Neutrogena lotion on a two-week Ocean kayaking trip, and just a one-time application demonstrated superior water-resistance to saltwater spray even after 8+ hours of non-stop paddling. So as far as sweat-resistance is concerned, the Ultra Sheer is good for even marathon distances.
It also doesn’t leave white streaks, stain clothes, or sting the eyes.
2) Best chemical sunscreen: Garnier Ombrelle Sports Endurance
We’ve recently been using the Garnier Ombrelle Sports Endurance lotion with SPF 50 for our shoe-testing runs – and we really like this one.
Along with water and sweat resistance, the Ombrelle has a very smooth, non-greasy lotion feel which makes it even easier to apply than the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer. If it is available in your country, then this is an equally good chemical sunscreen option. We’d like to point out that none of these lotions have a strong fragrance; they have a very neutral smell.
Unfortunately, this Garnier product doesn’t seem to be available as widely as the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer.
3) Best mineral/physical sunscreen: Coppertone Pure & Simple SPF 50 Zinc Oxide
If you prefer a physical or mineral-based sunscreen, then we recommend the Coppertone Pure and Simple lotion with a Zinc Oxide base. This product doesn’t contain chemicals like Avobenzone, but there is a trade-off. When compared to chemical sunscreens, it doesn’t disappear as easily over the skin and also not as easy to apply or remove.
We tend to neglect applying sunscreen on our lips; we recommend the the Blistex Lip balm with SPF 15 protection. You can also use this lip balm during harsh winters, so this is an all-season product.