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The Walking Contradiction’s How-to Guide: Successfully Avoiding Sunburn

Here’s the thing: I am extremely pale. And not in the “oh I’m soooo pale in the winter, but I get a nice tan in the summer” way. We’re talking sunburned in under fifteen minutes, translucent skin to the point you can see a good majority of my veins, every makeup product in the lightest shade available is still too dark, moonlight and fluorescent lighting makes it look like I might be glowing, low key vampire kind of pale. I can’t even count the number of times the general public has been legitimately shocked to find out I have zero Irish ancestry.


Pair my inherit translucentness with the fact that I am terrified of skin damage, due mostly to a particularly painful sunburn I got in my preteen years when I thought I was too cool for sunscreen that has left a neat circle of concentrated freckles (skin damage) on my upper thigh, I have pretty much become the master at avoiding sunburn/excessive UV exposure.

If you’re thinking, “Oh I don’t have to worry about that I don’t get sunburned” I’M GOING TO STOP YOU RIGHT THERE. I don’t care how much melanin you have been blessed with, and yes, it is true that if your ancestors lived in regions near the equator their skin naturally evolved to be more resistant to the sun’s blinding rays due to a higher concentration of melanin, HOWEVER PROTECTING YOUR SKIN IS STILL IMPORTANT. For all those slogging day in and day out at their respective work places, following a decent skin regime can become something sort of a challenge. Fortunately, there are skin treatments extended by various salons and skin clinics (you can find more here) that can make the process much easier.

Neat chart showing skin tones of indigenous people around the world. (via scienceline.org)

So here I am, a very pale person, to bestow onto you my tricks for avoiding excessive UV exposure/sunburn and in turn, helping prevent skin damage. If you’ve ever watched Benchwarmers (not that I particularly recommend it, but it was hilarious when I was 14, okay) you may be thinking I sound a bit like the dear sun-phobic Howie. Though as foolproof as his methods may have been in avoiding the sunlight, living in a closet with soda bottles to use as urine disposal and eating sunscreen under tables isn’t necessarily practical. (Or sanitary.) So here is my slightly more practical guide in avoiding sunburn.

1. USE THE SUNSCREEN, LOVE THE SUNSCREEN
Shopping for sunscreen might be one of my favorite things to do in the summer, and finding the highest SPF on the shelves is basically one of the most triumphant feelings. A lot of people don’t like sunscreen, and I totally get that: it can be greasy, you have to reapply it throughout the day, and the residue can seem to linger even after a long shower. But it is extremely necessary for helping block UV rays from frying your skin, so for even you sunscreen haters out there, here are some guidelines.

– Find a formula that works for you. There are a ridiculous amount of different formulas out in the skincare world, and many now are actually non-greasy. While spray formulas are convenient, I have found that the best way to avoid sunburn is to use a cream formula as a base and use the sprays for quick reapplication.

THIS APPLICATION TECHNIQUE WON’T DO SHIT I AM APPALLED. (via palmbeachillustrated.com)

– Use an SPF of 30 or higher. Personally, I love SPF 75 or higher if I can find it, but not everyone necessarily needs that high of a SPF. Anything lower than SPF 30 really isn’t that effective in the powerful summer sun and would require frequent reapplication, not exactly an exciting process.

– REAPPLY. Listen I know it may seem like SPF 75 would make you invincible all day, and I honestly wish it would. But I can’t stress enough that reapplication, especially if you’re sweating or in water throughout your day, is SO NECESSARY. As I mentioned earlier, what seems to work best is to use a cream sunscreen as a base, and then rely on the convenience of sprays for application. Set a timer for reapplication for 45 minutes to an hour and STICK TO IT.

– And yes, you still need sunscreen even if it is cloudy.

2. ALOE VERA IS YOUR FRIEND
I know it isn’t always possible to avoid sunburn, okay, I get it things happen. So when an unfortunate sunburn does occur, I swear by aloe vera for the best recovery. The gel is basically a miracle when it comes to sunburns, with it being cooling and healing at the same time. I’ve found that if I apply aloe gel right after I realize I’ve gotten burned, and keep applying it as necessary, the burn will actually start fading and healing overnight—there is even generally zero itchy peeling. (Bonus points if you grow your own aloe plant.)

3. BE STRATEGIC
While in the past it’s been thought that the part of the day when the sun is the strongest is around noon and the early afternoon, the reality is that the sun in the summer is pretty potent for a decent chunk of the day. “Safe zones” in which the chance for sunburn is very low are generally before 10 am and after 5pm. I know it’s not practical to completely avoid the sun during the midday, but if you are on vacation it might be a good idea to plan more touristy things where you’re out of the direct sun during the middle of the day, and save the beach time for the later afternoon.

(via tumblr)

Hopefully these tips will be helpful in keeping yo summer fun, safe, and sunburn free. Remember everyone, your heart might be important, but don’t forget to love the largest organ on your body, your skin. Now go soak up the sun…just not all of it.


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