As Deb has been pointing out in some great blog posts, May is Melanoma Awareness Month (along with Celiac Awareness Month).

While thus far I’ve been fortunate – one mole removed, no issue – I am at pretty high risk for potential skin cancer as I’m extremely fair and had a couple whopping burns as a teen. (ah, the baby oil days) I have been tan once in my life, for about 2 days, in Hawaii. Otherwise, excessive unprotected sun exposure causes me to either burn a lovely tomato red, or (strangely) have no color change at all. It’s definitely past time for me to either go back to the derm I didn’t like or find a new one and get checked again.

Over the years, I’ve used many a sunscreen and have had some favorites. I loved Scape (no longer made) from one of the docs behind some of the better Neutrogena/sport formulations. When I went back to Neutrogena and some other similar sunscreens, I discovered I’d developed what appear to be sensitivity to the ingredients (aside from now needing to avoid gluten-related ingredients). My skin would break out, peel and burn.

So, I started trying the “physical” or mineral sunscreens, which are usually zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based. (If you’re of a certain age, you may remember lifeguards with a white stripe down their nose – old formula zinc oxide.) I also like the idea of less use of chemicals when possible. Sometimes you’ll see mineral-only sunscreens marketed for babies, but you need to check the ingredients to be sure. I realize that the physical ingredients are by strict definition chemical, but work with me…. I also realize that according to some groups, the nano-particles of the minerals may pose some risk, but I can only work with the options I have. Here’s some general info on sunscreen.

My current favorites:

Eye area: Clarins under and around eye, daily in the AM – bonus benefit is is helps conceal dark circles! I fear it may be discontinued as I can’t find it on Clarins site – the image in the link above is to the prior tube as well, the one I have is orange. I used to use their SPF40 Day Screen, but it started irritating my skin after a formula change, caused peeling. Prior to Clarins, I’d used Shiseido. May have to go back to them, but I can’t recall why I stopped, perhaps they changed ingredients to something I couldn’t have. It irritates me that full ingredient lists are so hard to find. I buy these items, since they’re cosmetic, at stores (there’s a Sephora near where I get my hair cut) or online.

Face: MyChelle SunShield SPF28 – has a nice matte finish, makes my red face a little less noticeable. I don’t wear makeup, so can’t speak to how it works as a base. I buy this product at local health food type stores or through places like Abe’s Market or Vitacost or LuckyVitamin online, though you can also buy direct from MyChelle.

Body: Goddess Garden – I haven’t tried their sport yet. I plan to get tubes next time. The spray is convenient, but the nozzle clogged on me. I found a travel size tube at a local store, which I’ll take to Boston in June. I either take or buy sunscreen (other than my eye cream, which I tote) when traveling. I buy this product at local health food type stores or through places like Abe’s Market or Vitacost or LuckyVitamin online, though you can also buy direct from GG (looks like if you sign up for their newsletter they give you a coupon). I am generally anti-scent, but I find the smell of the formulate acceptable though noticeable at first application.

I have worn these all during runs and races, and so far they’ve gotten me through and I haven’t gotten too hot from them or looked weird afterward from streaking/sweat. I don’t spend hours at a time out in the sun that frequently, so my main concern is when I run. I want to pick up a stick formula, handy to re-do tops of ears, nose, the part in hair, the tops of feet, the back of hands. If you wash your hands a lot, like me, you’re washing off sunscreen every time, and I definitely notice the ravages of time and sun on my hands. (think of when you’re driving too!)

I will make exceptions and use chemical sunscreens if it’s all that’s available for some reason, and I’ve bought body lotion with SPF15 to use daily for commute protection.

But, I am not fond of the general feel of sunscreens on my skin, plus having to reapply frequently can be a pain (carry the extra, remember to do it). Some years ago, when we were going to Arizona, I investigated another option – sun protective clothing. What’s great about the clothing – depending on how they’ve implemented the protection – is that the protection may not degrade over time. The idea of sun protective clothing has taken off, and you’ll see a lot of items touting SPF or UPF ratings now, particularly if you shop at a place like REI. I know I’ve seen it on Columbia clothing, and I think some running clothes are starting to have ratings. Just remember, depending on your situation (skin condition/risk, how long you’ll be out) you might still want to put sunscreen on underneath. Mesh style shirts and shorts, the ultra lightweight stuff we wear in the heat, lets sun in as well as it lets out heat, so beware.

Here are some of my picks:

SunPrecautions is expensive, but their stuff works, lasts, and is really lightweight. It’s my absolute favorite. They started out as a medical device company (for some people, sun exposure causes illness/pain and is medically contraindicated) and you may have seen Badwater runners wearing their products. I have been out hiking in full Arizona sun for hours with sunscreen only on face, neck, scalp, ears and hands, the rest covered with their clothing, and not gotten a drop of color. Their shade scarf is a terrific thing to have in your car to protect your legs/arms from the sun on long trips when you’re wearing shorts and short sleeves. It cuts the heat quite a bit too. Their hats are pretty good. They’ve upped their style game, as the market is more competitive than when they started.

Coolibar is the second company we found, and while their fabric is heavier, they were the first we saw that made more “everyday” wear, like blouses  or shirts you could wear to work. They also were the first to have a wide variety of swim products, though SunPrecautions has some now too.

One more option might be to wash your regular clothing with an add-in (chemical) like SunGuard (DH has done this). It’s not permanent, and may not be safe for all clothing, but every little bit helps.

Remember to wear a hat and sunglasses, and that you (and your loved ones) need protection from the sun year-round. Enjoy safely!