Your guide to protecting yourself from head to toe all summer long.

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Keeping your skin protected should be a priority all year round. But in the warmer season, it’s top of mind because we spend more time under the sun doing our favourite activities. We enlisted two experts, Dr. Julia Carroll, MD, FRCPC, a dermatologist and co-founder of Compass Dermatology, and Ellis Holevas, director of education for BeautyNext Group, to deliver the facts on everything from SPF to UV rays to stylish sun gear so that you can enjoy gardening, sailing and patio season to the fullest.

Do the SPF Math

Most people find sun protection factor (SPF) ratings confusing—us, too! Hands up if your internal monologue at the beauty counter goes something like this:

How do I know what SPF to buy? Why do I need to reapply sunscreen if I’m using an SPF 60 instead of SPF 30? Why are there so many kinds—I just want one tube of sunscreen. Help!

Before you experience a meltdown at the beauty counter, rest assured we’ve got you covered. The first step is to understand the mathematical principles behind how SPF works. “If you go out with sunscreen and you naturally burn in 10 minutes, an SPF 15 will give you 10 minutes times 15 minutes of protection,” says Dr. Carroll. (That’s 150 minutes of protection from the sun.) “But that’s assuming you’re putting on sunscreen like they do in the lab.”

Apply Liberally... And Repeat

The traditional SPF equation only works if we apply sunscreen in the same thorough way it’s done during lab tests that determine the time limit associated with the labelled SPF factor.

“In the lab, they apply two milligrams of sunscreen per centimetre squared,” says Dr. Carroll, “but most people only apply 0.5 milligrams per centimetre squared. In reality, most of us only get one-quarter of the protection marked on the bottle because we don’t apply sunscreen thick enough.”

We know, applying sunscreen can get messy! After all, who wants to get sun lotion all over that new bikini or summer dress you just spent a good chunk of change on? Recognizing this, Dr. Carroll advises patients to apply sunscreen before putting on their bathing suits or clothing, like she does. “That way, I get all the nooks and crannies—my neck, my arms and legs and under my arms—much more easily.”

This way, you’re much more liberal with sunblock in the areas that need it. But that doesn’t take the burden off of reapplying it. Build as many options into your daily schedule to reapply it just as liberally as your morning sunscreen ritual, especially if you’re outdoors in full sun.

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Know Your ABCs

When it comes to sunrays that inflict damage, there are two kinds: UVA rays, which can cause aging and melanoma, and UVB rays, which can result in burning and non-lethal cancers. SPF only protects you from UVB rays. To keep out UVA rays, look for the words “broad spectrum” on your sunscreen. “In Canada, there is no specific rating for UVA rays,” says Dr. Carroll, “but there are a few filters that work better.” Seek out titanium dioxide and benzyl, in addition to the UVB coverage already in your sunscreen.

Choose the Right Formula

By finding a sunscreen you love, you’ve won half the battle at making yourself wear it regularly. Gone are the days of greasy, skin-clogging and horrible-smelling sunblock lotions. The two main types of sunscreens are chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing into your skin (which is why you need to apply chemical sunblock 30 minutes before exposure), while mineral sunscreens contain physical filters that “sit on the surface of the skin, causing UV rays to reflect off the skin,” says Holevas, who stands by AlumierMD’s pillar of clean science.

Mineral formulas work immediately after application because there is no wait time for chemical absorption. In mineral sunscreens, look for physical filters like titanium and zinc oxide. As a dermatologist, Dr. Carroll sees no concerns with chemical sunscreens and says that the choice between chemical and mineral ones is a matter of personal preference. She often recommends mineral formulas to patients with sensitive or reactive skin.

“Choosing a good format ensures compliance,” says Dr. Carroll. Holevas agrees: “If you want beautifully healthy, glowing skin, avoid the sun whenever possible and wear sunscreen year round. Achieve colour with a tinted formula instead.” Tinted sunsceens provide coverage and an even skin tone. Sticks work great for kids, and sprays ensure coverage in hard-to-reach places.

Finally, by seeking out sunscreen with antioxidant ingredients, you’ll also fight off free radicals under the sun. According to Holevas, antioxidants to look for that are also found in AlumierMD’s Sheer Hydration and Moisture Matte formats include resveratrol, caffeine, nut grass and the infamous duo of vitamins C and E.