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Sun-sational: How to Use the Best Sunscreens

The best sunscreens to keep you pretty and protected all season long.

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woman wearing hat on the beach
Laura Doss
Peter Ardito
Peter Ardito
Peter Ardito
Peter Ardito
Peter Ardito
Peter Ardito
Peter Ardito
Peter Ardito
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Reality Check

Protecting your skin doesn't have to be a goopy, sticky mess. The newest sunscreen formulas are lightweight, prevent wrinkles, and even zap zits. Here's how to use them for prettier, healthier skin all season long.

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Protection Perk: Wearing SPF Cuts Your Skin Cancer Risk in Half

You've got the stats down -- melanoma rates in women under 40 are on the rise, one in five Americans will get skin cancer -- but the latest news will reboot your motivation to shake the bake. A new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that daily use of SPF 15+ sunscreen reduced melanoma risk by 50 percent. Fortunately, it's never been easier to shield your skin. "The newest sunscreens have smart technology and come in sophisticated formulas," says Jeannette Graf, MD, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. Our pick: oil, which offers high protection and gives skin a sheen. Try L'Oreal Paris Sublime Sun Sheer Protect Sunscreen Oil SPF 50+ ($11, drugstores), which feels silky thanks to its fast-absorbing combo of sunflower seed oil and shea butter.

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Protection Perk: Sunscreen Makes You Look Younger

The memories of your last beach vacay will stick with you and, unfortunately, so will the dullness, discoloration, and DNA damage your skin suffered while in the sun. "Ninety percent of wrinkles, brown spots and saggy skin is caused by sun exposure," says Arielle Kauvar, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. The latest SPFs are souped up with anti-aging ingredients. Try Aveeno Clear Complexion BB Cream SPF 30 ($17, drugstores), which has soy to help fade uneven areas, and Supergoop! Advanced SPF 37 Anti-Aging Eye Cream ($45, nordstrom.com), which has oat peptides to prevent crow's-feet. "Use sunscreens with vitamin C, green tea, or idebenone, which minimize free-radical damage," Dr. Graf says.

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Protection Perk: Sunscreen Prevents Pimples

You know the theory that the sun can dry up your acne? Wrong! It actually makes blemishes worse. "UV rays cause skin to step up its oil production, exacerbating zits," says Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. If you're blemish-prone, look for an SPF gel or a lightweight lotion, such as Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen Liquid Lotion SPF 55 ($13, drugstores). If you have sensitive skin, opt for a sunscreen with minerals like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which are less likely to cause inflammation. Be sure to wash SPF off at night to keep it from clogging your pores.

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Protection Perk: SPF Makes Your Makeup Last Longer

If you want your foundation to go the distance, use a primer with SPF, such as La Roche-Posay Anthelios SPF 50 Daily Anti-Aging Primer ($40, laroche-posay.us). Reapplication is key. "Women get about 18 hours a week of cumulative sun exposure, and it all adds up; one 10-minute walk is enough to harm your skin," Dr. Day says. The simplest way to reapply without ruining your makeup is with a protection-packed powder, like Shiseido Sun Protection Compact Foundation SPF 34 ($36, shiseido.com).

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Protection Perk: The Beachy Fragrance Boosts Your Mood

There's a reason we're loco for coconut-scented lotions: They make us feel Zen-like. A Columbia University study found that the smell of coconut can lower your blood pressure when you're stressed out. Our fave: coconut-and-papaya-scented Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration Clear Mist Spray Sunscreen SPF 30 ($10, drugstores). Don't be stingy; Dr. Kauvar says that women slather on less than half the amount that they should. Apply a shot glass's worth to your bod and a nickel-size dollop to your face.

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Protection Perk: The Latest Sun Shields Give You a Glow

A faux tan makes you look healthier from head to toe. Fortunately, new spray bronzers, like Australian Gold Sheer Coverage Continuous Spray SPF 50 With Kona Coffee Bronzers ($10, drugstores), also contain SPF. Be careful when misting aerosol SPF outside, because the wind can blow it away. Dr. Kauvar suggests spraying it into your hands and then applying it. Also, after you get dressed, lift up the edges of your clothing and spray the skin underneath with a clear aerosol SPF. Those areas are where derms often see damage.

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Don't Get Burned

Shield these hot spots with expert-approved application strategies.

Scalp: Melanomas here are deadlier than anywhere else. To avoid a goopy mess in your hair, pick an SPF powder, like BareMinerals SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen ($28, Sephora stores), to massage into your part and hairline.

Ears: They get a direct sun hit, especially if you often sport a ponytail. Cover them with a balm, such as Banana Boat Sport Performance SPF 50 Stick ($5, drugstores), and wear a wide-brimmed hat on beach days.

Lips: The skin on your mouth is extra sensitive to the sun. Reapply Blistex Five Star Lip Protection SPF 30 ($3, drugstores) every hour, extending it past your lip line.

Feet: Even if you're sitting under an umbrella, your feet are still clocking damage from the rays' reflection. Mist them with a spray for damp or sweaty skin, like CeraVe Wet Skin Spray SPF ($17, drugstores).

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Must-Know Lingo

The labels on sunscreen bottles have changed this year because of new FDA rules that make them easier to understand. Here's how to decode them on the double.

Broad Spectrum: The product protects against sunburn-causing UVB rays as well as UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into skin and accelerate the effects of aging.

Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Products with an SPF of 14 or lower or formulas that don't pass the broad-spectrum test will be required to carry a warning that they have been shown to help prevent sunburn only, not skin cancer or signs of aging.

Water Resistant: The SPF has been tested and found to be effective for up to 40 or 80 minutes (whichever time is listed on the label) while you swim or sweat.

What You Won't See on the Label

Sunblock: Because no product blocks 100 percent of rays, "sunblock" will be replaced with "sunscreen."

Waterproof: No sunscreen is completely impervious to water. Look for "water resistant" instead.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2013

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