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The 10 Essentials for WOMEN in the Outdoors: Essential #2 Sun Protection

Protect your skin so you can live a more beautiful life

Sun protection is the second essential you should always carry in your daypack or overnight backpack. Sun protection comes in all forms such as sunscreen, sun protective clothing, hats, SPF lip balm and sunglasses. There is so much misguided information out there, especially about skincare and sunscreen, and if you are like me, you have no time to be bothered with premature aging. I do not want wrinkles in my thirties and I am pretty certain you don't either. I also would prefer to stay cancer-free. As we get older, we learn to embrace our age but we still always want to look and feel beautiful. Signs of premature aging include fine lines and wrinkles on your face, neck and hands, sun pigment spots on your face and chest, volume-depleted hands and itchy skin. Additionally, sun protection is extremely important to prevent skin cancer. Statistics show that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at least once in their lifetimeand the most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer however this is considered the deadliest form of skin cancer with high rates of metastases. About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell and squamous cell) are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, and therefore can be easily avoided with the correct skin protection. Always wear sunscreen, everyday, no matter what and remember that snow, sand, and water increase the need for sunscreen because they reflect the sun’s rays. The number one way to prevent premature aging is daily sun protection, even when you do not plan on being in the sun. 

Commonly asked questions about sunscreen

1. How much sunscreen should I use and how often should I reapply?

A one-ounce (shot glass) of sunscreen should cover your exposed body however this can depend on how much skin is exposed. Do not forget your hands. They are first to show signs of premature aging. Most people only apply 25-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours. Avoid spray sunscreens as these do not last nor do dermatologists recommend them.

2. What is the difference between a chemical barrier and a physical barrier sunscreen?

 The two main ingredients in physical barrier sunscreen, commonly referred to as sunblock, are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Physical barrier sunscreen works by sitting on top of your skin and deflecting the sun’s rays. They work instantly but can also be rubbed off easily and therefore should be re-applied frequently. Physical barrier sunscreens should ALWAYS be used if you plan on being outdoors in the sun.

Chemical sunscreens are often found in your daily moisturizers and contain chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. They work by penetrating your skin and absorbing the sun’s rays like a sponge. Although they last longer than physical barrier sunscreen, they do take at least 20 minutes to work. Studies have shown that some of the active ingredients in chemical barrier sunscreen are known to be endocrine disrupters and can interfere with the hormone balance in your body. Chemical sunscreens also tend to be more irritating to the skin, since multiple ingredients have to be combined to get broad-spectrum coverage and some of the chemical sunscreens can actually cause free radical formation, which leads to more sun damage in the long run. Chemical barrier sunscreens can be used as daily sunscreen if you plan on being indoors or have minimum sun exposure.

3. Is a high-number SPF better than a low-number one?

Extremely high SPFs are totally misleading and research has shown that anything above 50 SPF does not offer additional protection. Dermatologists recommend sunscreens in the 30-50 SPF range for the best protection and coverage.

 4. What type of sunscreen should I use?

Use broad coverage sunscreens, which are those that protect against UVA and UVB light.

5. Can I use daily moisturizer with sunscreen?

Daily moisturizer with sunscreen is most likely a chemical barrier sunscreen, which is fine if you are running errands or staying inside. However, if you are doing outdoor activities or planning to spend time in the sun, it is best to use a physical barrier sunscreen, which is separate from your daily moisturizer. I personally use a couple types of daily moisturizers and then add my physical barrier sunscreen as my last step in my morning skincare routine. 

6. Which ingredients should I avoid in sunscreens?

Try to avoid vitamin A in your sunscreen. This is a good anti-aging ingredient and is often present in your daily or nightly moisturizer but Vitamin A does not interact well with sunlight and may trigger development of cancerous lesions. Vitamin A is also known as retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, or retinyl linoleate. Avoid ingredients with citrus before you head into the sun as they have phototoxic properties, same goes for the well-known antibiotic doxycycline.

 7. Can I use my sunscreen from last summer?

Sunscreens do expire so check the expiration date. Sunscreens typically last about two years unopened, but once you’ve cracked the lid, it’s a case of use it or lose it.

My personal favorites are EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50  and SkinMedica Total Defense and Repair Broad-Spectrum SPF 34 Age Defense sunscreen and I purchase these products as well as most of my skincare products at Seaside Skincare in San Clemente, Ca. Both of these are highly recommended by dermatologists and I have seen great results over the years.

Protect your lips

Lips are commonly overlooked when it comes to sun protection, even if you always put sunscreen on your face. Our lips are vulnerable to damage from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Not only do they have a thinner protective top layer of cells compared with the rest of our skin but the bottom lip also tends to protrude slightly, so it can easily catch the sun's rays. Use a lip balm that is SPF 30 or higher and remember to reapply often. Below are some recommended lip balms for sun protection:

Banana Boat Sunscreen Lip Balm

COOLA Mineral LipLuX SPF 30

EltaMD UV Lip Balm Broad-Spectrum SPF 31

Kiss My Face Sport Treatment Lip Balm SPF 30

UPF clothing

Sunscreens rub and sweat off no matter how often you reapply and this is why it is important to wear clothing that protects against the sun’s powerful UV rays.

UPF is the rating system used for apparel. It’s similar to SPF (Sun Protection Factor) in sunscreen but UPF gauges a fabric's effectiveness against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light. A UPF rating of 25 indicates the fabric of a garment will allow 1/25th (roughly 4 percent) of available UV radiation to pass through it. A garment rated UPF 50 permits only 1/50th (roughly 2 percent) UV transmission. Any fabric that allows less than 2 percent UV transmission is labeled UPF 50+.  I personally try to wear UPF shirts whenever I am out on the trails.

REI Co-op Sahara Heather T-shirt UPF

The North Face Women’s Adventure Tank UPF

The North Face Women’s Ambition Short Sleeve UPF

Lole Ells Tank Top UPF 50


Hats not only hide your unsightly sweaty hair but can also prevent sun exposure to your face. Some hats have UPF ratings and others don’t however even a regular baseball cap can help protect your face from the sun. They are also fun to wear if you want to show off your favorite sports team (Go Angels) or are a proud of your Alma Mater (UCSB Gauchos).

REI Co-op Sahara Hat UPF 50

Outdoor Research Oasis Sombrero Hat UPF 50


The primary advantage of the buff (a continuous loop of fabric) is the versatility of the item over a standard hat. Buffs can be used as headbands with or without a hat, as a face mask while adventuring in wind, dust or snow, as a wrist band to help wipe the sweat from your face when in the outdoors, or as a neck scarf to protect your neck from the sun, wind or snow. Buffs are lightweight, moisture wicking and have a UPF rating so they are great to use for sun protection. I own a full buff and a half buff. The following are recommended buffs and hats that can be worn for sun protection.

Buff High UV Coolmax Multifunctional Headwear

Buff UV Half Buff

Sunglasses: If you adventure outside you should own a pair of polarized sunglasses, here’s why:

Polarized lenses contain a special filter that blocks intense reflected light, reducing glare and improving visibility. Outdoor enthusiasts benefit the most from polarized sunglasses because outdoor activities require the elimination of glare for optimum safety and performance. I always purchase my outdoor sunglasses from REI because all sunglasses offered at REI block 100% of ultraviolet light. UV protection information should be printed on the hangtag or price sticker of any sunglasses you buy, no matter where you buy them. For information on how to choose a pair of sunglasses, this amazing blog should do the trick.

What are some of your favorite ways to protect your skin from the sun? 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Kristen Fuller

Explorer of cliffs, mountains, oceans, and deserts by day and night.