Prevent SPF slip-ups with high-tech products that provide even more protection from harmful UV rays
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The most important mantra in any skincare regimen is sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen, right? But even if you slather and reapply, the truth of the matter is that many of us are still getting burned—and recent studies blame that on careless mistakes when applying SPF, resulting in less protection. Even more? Most people's SPF use is spotty: A recent study found that 30 percent of women did apply sunscreen regularly, but only to their faces, exposing the rest of their skin to harmful UV rays.
While SPF slip ups every now and then are inevitable (no one is perfect!), being slack can lead to long-term repercussions, namely the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. The good news is there are more ways than ever to boost your protection, with gadgets and gear that will turn even a casual sunscreen user into a serious UV-blocking dynamo. It's time to take your regular SPF application to a whole new level this summer.
Photo: Corbis Images
Download an App
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UV protection from your smartphone? Yep, there's an app for that. Here's why it works too: "The biggest problem with sunscreen is proper compliance. Being diligent about looking at an app can help rectify that," says Carl Thornfeldt, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Fruitland, ID and the founder of Epionce Skin Care. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has created a free app that measures UV index by your location and the hour, so you know where the rays are at their strongest. If you've got to have a reminder alert, SunZapp (free; iTunes.com) measures your skin type, clothing, activity level, and the environment, and beeps you when you're at risk.
Choose UV Gear
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Working out and sunscreen? Not a good combo. That's because the photoprotective ingredients in sunblock wear down pretty quickly from friction and sweat. So the next time you're taking a serious sweat session outdoors, swap your gym tee or tank (which can still absorb UV rays and burn you underneath) for one treated with UV blocking ingredients. "What's great about the treated clothing is that you can skip SPF on the areas that are covered up," says Thornfeldt. Patagonia's UPF running tees ($39; patagonia.com) protect your shoulders and back, both places that sunscreen users routinely miss.
Stick It On
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Heading off the grid? You'll want a low-tech indicator like Sunburn Alert water-proof stickers ($33 to $40; sunburnalert.goodsie.com) or wristbands ($12 to $23; sunburnalert.goodsie.com). Rub or spray your sticker or band with sunscreen; the dark hue will gradually lighten up, revealing how long your sunscreen is working and when you should reapply. When the color turns completely off-white, it means you've reached your UV limit and should get out of the sun. And while you'll have to break out a new sticker or band each day you're outdoors, they'll go from sand to surf until sundown.
Photo: Sunburn Alert
Protect Your Peepers
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Thinner skin is at higher risk for pre-cancer cells, says Thornfeldt, so skin around the eyes definitely needs extra protection. Of course, sunglasses are an obvious, but if you want extra assurance, opt for polarized over a regular lens. These specialized lenses cut down on glare and block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays (and reduce crow's feet, says Thornfeldt ). Bonus: While polarized lenses were always popular in sport, more designers are using them in their on-trend, off-court styles like these polarized shades from Michael Kors ($185; sunglasshut.com).
Photo: Sunglass Hut
Wrap It On
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Fitbit reached a designer level (hello, Tory Burch!), so it only was a matter of time before those rubber UV indicator bracelets morphed into chic, pretty jewelry. The June bracelet ($129; netatmo.com) with its leather wrap style, has a UV sensor that looks like a gem. Working in tandem with a smartphone app, you can track your sun exposure, and receive personalized protection advice and alerts when you're about to overdose on UV rays. "Most people think that the 30 minutes they spend walking to and from places can't do much harm. This device will tell you the daily-accumulated sun exposure, which can be very surprising," says E. Russak, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic, in New York City.
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At your next beach party, try a stylish, on-trend dress that's guaranteed to block out UV rays. Coolibar's UPF 50 clothing, like this lightweight tunic ($90; coolibar.com) infuses titanium dioxide at the fiber level, which means it's guaranteed to last and protect you through 40 washes. This is crucial since not all UPF clothing is created equal. "The protection can be excellent, but some wear down quicker with sweat, water and washing," says Thornfeldt. While none will protect for a lifetime, do your homework before you buy.
Pull on a Hat
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"Skin cancers on the scalp are very aggressive, so a hat is your absolute best protection," says Thornfeldt. Look at the material—a straw hat is a good choice, as long as the weave is supertight with no gaps (the looser weave allows rays to sneak in). A fabric lining will give extra protection too. And make sure the style has at least a three to four-inch brim like Coolibar's SmartStraw Riviera Sun Hat ($35; coolibar.com)—anything less exposes your ears and face to the sun.
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Drinkable sunscreen? Um, a joke right? Not so fast. Osmosis UV Neutralizer ($30; dermstore.com) claims to work by imprinting radiofrequency vibes onto water. You drink the water—it tastes just like H20—and the vibrating pulses neutralize the absorption of UVA and UVB rays. Preliminary manufacturer studies and testimonials claim it lessens burning, especially in high-risk types, but the jury is out as to what the long-term effects are. "Drinking this alone is not going to protect you from skin cancer like a topical sunscreen block. Oral options like this or a pill may help reduce photosentivity for burning, but you always need to wear sunscreen too," says Thornfeldt. (Lather up with one of 20 Sun Products to Help Protect Your Skin.)