How to Protect Yourself From Sun Damage & Still Look Great

Now that the spring semester is over and summer is in full swing, most of us couldn’t think …


This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you purchase through our links. Please read our full disclosure here.

Girl on the beach in a dress

Now that the spring semester is over and summer is in full swing, most of us couldn’t think of anything better than laying out all day long by the beach or pool while the sun’s warm rays turn our skin a lovely shade of bronze. Summer weather is perfect for other outdoor activities as well, such as picnicking in the park or attending outdoor music festivals.

But as tempting as it is to spend loads of time outdoors absorbing the sun, there are some things you should know before you cause serious damage to your skin. A tan may make you look nice now, but it can be life-threatening in the future. But don’t worry: you don’t have to sacrifice being tan to protect yourself. You can have both! Read on for the info you need to know, as well as tips on protecting your skin while still looking gorgeously bronzed.

1. Sun Facts

  • ANY visible tan on your skin that differs from your natural skin color is sun damage; the deeper the color, the worse the damage.
  • All skin colors are susceptible to skin cancer, not just fair skin.
  • Most skin cancer is caused by sun damage that occurred before the age of 20.
  • You can get melanoma on your scalp.
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults, and can often be deadly.
  • The sun doesn’t just damage your skin: it can cause numerous eye problems, such as cataracts and pteryguim.
  • 90% of fine lines, wrinkles, and brown spots on skin are caused by sun damage and could have been prevented.

Scary, right? And those are just a few of the facts. For more information on skin cancer, check out the American Academy of Dermatology and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – both are excellent resources that are worth reading.


2. How to Protect Yourself

  • Apply sunscreen every day, even in the wintertime. (Shape Magazine has a great guide on how to choose the right sunblock, if you need help.) Remember to reapply every two hours, especially if you are swimming or sweating.
  • When choosing a sunblock, make sure to choose one that has UVA or Broad Spectrum protection, because if it doesn’t, then it may only protect you from UVB rays.
  • Never, never, NEVER!!!! go into a tanning bed. Really, just don’t. Despite what the salon owners may try to tell you, there is NO such thing as a safe tan!! Just last year, tanning beds were officially added to the highest-risk category on the list of top cancer-causers, right up there with cigarettes, mustard gas, and arsenic. Stay away!!
  • Buy a daily moisturizer for your face that contains an SPF of at least 15. The skin on your face is more sensitive to sun damage than the rest of your body. These moisturizers are made by almost any brand that you can find in drugstores, such as Clean and Clear or Neutrogena.
  • Give your scalp, face, and eyes extra protection by wearing a hat and sunglasses. Not only do these accessories provide protection, but they can be quite fashionable as well:
Hats and Sunglasses

Hats: Classic Straw Wide Brim Hat- Luxury Divas, Pink Wide Brim Hat- Shop Ruche, Chain Floppy Hat- Top Shop, Black and White Striped Hat-, Green Fedora- Target, Microbrim Hat- Kohl’s

Sunglasses: Aviators- ASOS, Retro Vintage Shades- Goggles and Glasses, Metal Round Glasses- Top Shop, Printed Sunglasses- PacSun, Spitfire Round Lense Glasses- ASOS, Cateye Sunglasses- Top Shop, Pastel Retro Glasses- ASOS

  • Try to avoid being in direct sunlight from 10 AM to 4 PM, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Choose clothing made of thick material or dark colors, because these fabrics contain a higher SPF than lightweight, light colored cloth. Alternatively, you can wash your clothes with Sun Guard, which gives clothes an Ultraviolet Protection Factor of 30.
sun guard

3. Don’t Sacrifice a Great Tan

If you really are set on getting bronzed skin for the summer, don’t fret. There are plenty of affordable products out on the market today that give you natural looking tans without the damaging affects of the sun. I personally love using moisturizing lotion that gives a gradual tan, because it’s convenient to use after a shower and it doesn’t leave streaks. My three favorites are:

gradual tanners

If you need a tan ASAP and don’t have time for a gradual tan, there are many options that show results right away, such as L’Oreal Sublime Bronze One Day Tinted Gel or Neutrogena Micromist Tanning Sunless Spray, but these are a little tricky to apply. We wrote a guide to getting the best sunless tan a little while back that will give you tips! For more info, Shape Magazine’s guide is great as well. You also have the option of going to a tanning salon or spa and getting a spray tan. These look great, but they may be a bit pricey. For your face, bronzer works best; sunless tanning lotions tend to make your face greasy.

4. Reverse Sun Damage

It’s never too late to start protecting yourself from the sun. Be sure to use the protection tips above, because not only will they prevent further damage, but they may also reverse some of the damage that has already been done.

You can also reverse sun damage by eating foods rich in antioxidants and using products on your face that contain vitamins and antioxidants, which neutralize harmful toxins. One example would be the Olay Reginerist product line.


Although a bit expensive, Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion is a sunblock that contains antioxidants for super defense against the sun.



How do you protect yourself from the sun? Do you have any tips on sun damage prevention? What are your favorite sunless tanners? Sunblocks? I want to know what all of you think, so be sure to leave a comment!

41 thoughts on “How to Protect Yourself From Sun Damage & Still Look Great”

  1. Rather old and wrinkley than young and white. I want to look good in the prime of my life!
    Yeeez, what’s with the sunblock? We are animals, we are created to stay outside! People was out and about in the sun ages before sunscreen and hardly anyone of them are known to be killed by cancer.
    I will be enjoying the sun with no sunsceen and a REAL tan. Tan is natures answer to SPF!

  2. Some good advice! I’ve got the kind of skin that burns, and never tans so I’m always very careful to protect my skin from the sun. I had never heard of that Sun Guard stuff to wash you clothes in, but it looks like an interesting concept.

    And because I do a lot of copy editing, I have to point out that it’s Olay Regenerist and not Reginerist. Just so you know and can fix it!

  3. The sun’s rays damage was not as potent back in the days as it is now because of the depletion of the ozone, Sunshine. You dont have to do what the article tells you but please dont discourage other people from protecting themselves or bash an article that is meant to help out others. That’s just immature.

    Anyways, I enjoy using Jergens Natural Glow, it works awesome on my skin. My mom never tanned and she just turned 56 and when we go out people really really think she’s my older sister, sun damage is not joke at all. It’s not about looking wrikly, it’s about serious damage to your skin.

  4. Such awesome hats! And I LOVE my Olay stuff. Normally I don’t think about sunscreen, but I don’t have to because it is in my Olay moisturizer. Great post.

    Aaaaaaand Sunshine, I LOVE the sun too but you gotta remember waaaaaaay back in the day really white people lived in places where the light level was not so intense. People who lived where there is more sun had the adaptation of darker skin with more melanin, which helps protect the skin from the UV rays that cause cancer . Today Australia, a place with people who came from England (a low light place with low melanin people), has one of the worst skin cancer rates in the world b/c it’s tons of pale people in the sun too long.

    Not only that but people a long time ago, especially those from the low light areas, went outside completely covered up, and that was their sunscreen. I believe we were created to be outside too. So frolic and be free in the sun, just be careful please! 🙂

  5. Good call on this article! I’m an avid sunscreen user (SPF 45 is a must for me), and my favourite brand is Ombrelle (by L’Oreal).

    Also, I would really like to see a post about stylish hats for the summer – I have no idea what’s “in” right now! Thanks 🙂

  6. Sunshine (and everyone else who thinks sun protection is a joke, including me, circa 2008),

    I recently had to have SEVERAL “suspicious” spots removed and tested for cancer – They were tiny, tiny moles or dots, nothing like the scary pictures in magazines. I went to three different dermatologists for different opinions (hey, I didn’t want holes cut in my body). All of them said the same thing – they need to get out! So, it’s been almost two weeks later, and I have 6 different dime sizes holes in my body that will absolutely scar. Yes, I thought a tan would be worth being old and wrinkly, but now I will have scars for the rest of my life (one of which is on my forehead). NOT WORTH IT! Yes, I miss having a golden tan, and I should buy stock in sunless tanners, but holy cow, being told I might have cancer was the scariest thing ever (and I’m 23). Luckily, my results came back a few days ago and none of the spots were cancerous, but it happens!

    Plus, one of my best friends older sister (who is 28) tanned for only special occasions and in the summer when she was in her teens/early 20s, and she is already getting botox for wrinkles. Old and wrinkley, not a problem. 28 and wrinkles? No thanks.

    Thanks, CF, for this article. People will still tan if they are bull-headed enough, but if this article made ONE person rethink that baby oil or tanning bed, it was worth it!

    And tan is not nature’s answer to SPF…it’s your body’s reaction to being BURNED. Dark skin (naturally, like in African and Middle Eastern people) is nature’s answer to SPF – the melanin in their skin helps with sun protection, but they can STILL get skin cancer!

  7. YES ! the shisedo sunblock is a bit expensive but i’ve been usign this baby for ONE year and it works WONDERS ! its very high in spf & doesn’t irritate skin !

  8. I have yet to find a good sunless tanner. I think they all look unnatural on me. I have a weird skin color and I tan differently than most white people so those tanners just don’t work for me.
    I’ve never been in a tanning bed, and I never would, but I do love bronzing poolside in the sunshine. I wear sunscreen when I do, and even though technically its damaged skin, i love the tan I get.
    So basically, I’m super conflicted. Its like I know better but I don’t care and I hate being like that.
    I think sunshine, like everything else, is okay in moderation.

  9. Sunscreen is routine for me, like brushing my teeth. I worked at a cancer clinic (as a summer student) and there was a male patient who passed away from melanoma, which started in his foot. It was unbelievable. The only thing I would add to this article is to MAKE SURE, ladies and gents, that you COVER yourself in lotion: ears, feet, backs of hands…etc. Another great article!!

  10. I’m a super-pale redhead, I’m having trouble finding SPF for every day that doesn’t break me out. I still wear it, but man it sucks being broken out when the last thing I want to do is cover up in makeup.

  11. Sunshine– better young and with a bottle-tan than young with skin cancer. A girl I went to high school with just found out she has skin cancer– AND SHE IS ONLY TWENTY YEARS OLD!!!!

    I’m proud to rock the pale skin. And I’ll still look good when I’m 45.

  12. Thanks for this great article! Girls need to remember to be comfortable in their own skin and not look like fake orange oompa loompas!!

  13. So, I haven’t decided how I feel about this yet, so please, feel free to comment on my comment 🙂

    I go to the tanning bed and just turned 22. I have been going since I was a teenager. I want to quit, but I seriously look great with a tan and terrible without it. And I’m not just being vain, I really look bad without a tan, its crazy. And spray tans are NOT worth the money. They only last about 3 days and cost too much. And for those of you that call tanners “oompa loompas”, thats not funny, and its not true, tanning can look great if not overdone.

    I need a product that makes me tan and is worth the money. I don’t like any of the Jergen’s products. And why do I need to wear SPF if I have an office job and go to school? I don’t really understand the point.

  14. Very relevant topic. I just read on Time magazine that young women can be more easily convinced about the risks of sun damage when they are told about how it affects their appearance (wrinkles). That is so true. Because somehow we all think that cancer is never going to happen to us… Crazy!

    I am from a country (Brazil) where people love tanned skin and they really call me whitey (even though for U.S. standards I’m not that white), but whenever someone says I need to get some tan I always say I prefer to keep my skin healthy.

    The only thing I hate is that I can’t find a moisturizer with sunscreen that won’t make my face shiny.

  15. Thank you for writing this post – love it! But I have a suggestion,

    Do you think you could do a quick update/second part on this post? I recently found a nonprofit group called the Environment Working Group, which tests every single sunscreen on the market for all chemicals that are harmful, and apparently only 8% of sunscreens are NOT harmful to your health! Apparently a ton of popular sunscreens contain chemicals that can cause hormone changes/skin damage/etc!

    It’d be really cool if you could sift through these and find affordable but safe brands and further discuss the important of skincare. The only one I found so far that is great and cheap is all “Coppertone” products, which has a safety level of 3. I just figure that since College Fashion is so powerful, it’d be great if you could do this. Thanks!

  16. Thank you SO MUCH for writing this article! So many people are either unaware or ignorant to the effects of sun tanning AND tanning beds. Spray tans can be worth the $25+ dollars if you find the right salon; it just takes some trial and error. Since spray tans don’t last more than a few days, I love to use Victoria’s Secret New Beach Sexy line. I use the Daily Glow Gradual Tan Moisturizer with SPF 15 in it every day. I highly recommend this stuff (I’m pretty picky when it comes to self-tanners)! I hope this article changed at least a few reader’s attitudes and behaviors on tanning.

    P.S. My mom, like @Isabelle’s, hasn’t tanned and moisturizes her face and body every day and looks at least 10 years younger than she really is (in both mine and many other people’s opinion).

  17. Thanks for such an important beauty article!
    I wear sunscreen every single day, all seasons. It’s especially important here in Australia, where we sit directly under a giant fat hole in the ozone layer and our sun is extremely strong. I use Neutrogena’s Ultrasheer Drytouch, it feels lovely on your skin, and is a fantastic base for foundation.
    I was very disappointed though by your inclusion of a suggestion to “reverse sun damage”. Sun damage cannot, ever, be reversed. It is extremely irresponsible of you to mislead your readers like that – you cannot undo the harm caused!

  18. I hope this website won’t become part of the youth-worship culture completely. Yes, sun protection is important, but no, SPF will not keep skin young and wrinkly forever.

    So next time, please don’t use pictures of wrinkles and call it “not so cute”, because it’s this obsession with youth that’s not cute.

  19. I would rather be white as paper and cancer-free (as long as possible anyways). With all the toxins that we take in compared to people of the past, our cancer risks are higher as it is–why make it worse by bringing it on?

    I know someone that constantly tans (it looks gross) and she has huge spots of discolored blackish gray skin on her body now from the damage. I used a tanning bed once before prom and got burned and that is the last time I ever “tanned” myself.

  20. to Sunshine-
    “Rather old and wrinkley than young and white. I want to look good in the prime of my life!”

    Really? Thats an attitude alot of girls I know have, and it really upsets me. I used to go tanning, but that was before my mom was diagnosed with skin cancer. She used to lay out in the sun every day which is what doctors said caused the cancer.

    She had to have a large portion of skin removed and reconstructive surgery on her face. It’s eight months later and she will still need more surgeries if she wants to look the way she did pre surgery and pre cancer. She was actually lucky with that outcome, I could have lost my mom.

    I also know a SEVENTEEN year old guy, who had melanoma on his back in three different places. He never used sunscreen.

    Please everyone, don’t be idiots when it comes to tanning. It really can kill you.

  21. Totally agree with everything posted on this article! I have lived in South Florida my entire life and USED to go to tanning beds about once or twice a week a couple years ago. I have just now, at 19, really started to understand the importance of sunscreen and how HORRIBLE tanning beds are for you. I don’t want to wake up only 10 years from now and have wrinkles all over my face from something as silly as not wanting to wear sunscreen. Thanks for the post! Good job!!

  22. This article is brilliant, but may I just point out one thing. I recently read an article about a woman who made sure she always had sunscreen on and stayed out of the sun as much as possible. She’s now suffering from hypovitaminosis D because her body was severely deficient in vitamin D. While it’s important to protect our skin from the sun’s rays, there has to be a balance, because the sun does a lot of good too. As long as sunscreen is topped up after every few hours, going out in the sun shouldn’t be a problem.

  23. I think this post is awesome, very good information!

    The facts about sunscreen doing more harm is strange, I’ve never heard of that before. I’ve been wearing sunscreen for over 20 years and my parents even longer and none of us have mutated dna or anything, and we don’t have skin cancer. When every magazine has an article about the harm of suncreen like it does about the harm of the sun I’ll take it more serious. Until then, I’ll keep the sunscreen on to keep the sun’s harmful rays off of me.

    It’s like comparing the safety of different ways to travel, planes crash, boats sink, and trains derail. This post is called How to Protect Yourself From Sun Damage, not sun screen. If it was called how to be informed of the safest ways to travel by boat, you wouldn’t comment saying ride a plane. Those crash and things happen there too, there’s ups and downs to everything.

    Just saying, great post Calli!

  24. Some of you guys asked about facial sunscreens. I bought Banana Boat Sport Performance Active Dry Protect and it came with a free sample of face sunscreen. Not only does it provide 30 SPF and protects you from UVA and UVB, but it is oil free and therefore prevents breakouts. It dries quickly, and in my experience, it really works. Plus, it doesn’t look greasy!

    Maybe it will work for you too 🙂

  25. College Fashion –

    Thank you, thank you, thank you a million times from the bottom of my heart. This is an article that so many girls need to read.

    Sun protection and tanning in general is a matter close to my heart, because my dad’s battle with cancer began in the skin. It later reached his lymph nodes and spread. He never tried to get tan, but when he was home between flights he’d work outside in the garden, with horses, etc. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that you don’t even have to try to get cancer. You just have to be careless.

    Sunshine : Let’s burst some bubbles right now. A tan is NOT nature’s answer to SPF. A tan is nature trying to protect you, since you’re obviously rather unwilling to do so for the pathetic sake of vanity. Why look good in the prime of your life when you can look good all your life? It’s called ‘bronzer,’ and it’s cheap. Invest in some and a good fan brush to match. You say hardly anyone was known to be killed of cancer ‘in the ages before sunscreen.’ If this is true, I’d love for you to explain how Hippocrates was able to document so many different types of cancer in his writings. Really, try, it would greatly entertain me. Then again, ANY attempted rebuttal would be entertaining.

    Ariel : It’s important to wear sunscreen even if you’re indoors because UV rays penetrate glass. 🙂

    Thanks again, College Fashion. More people need to read and heed this article.

    xoxo, Scarlett

  26. well now I read the comments…
    Luckily the Europeant Union united the SPF number specification, so it is easier to pick. The proof about sunblocks being harmful: me!
    And those are really nice hats. I wish I found a pretty one form me, my old (almost) sombrero) looks used.

  27. Scarlett:
    You don’t need to “burst my bubble” and I am sorry if I in any way have offended you as I was not trying to be mean. I simply stated my belief and it might seem a little blunt due to the fact that my mother tounge is Norwegian.
    However, what I don’t get is that tan is not natural spf. It is the skins way of protecting itself from the sun than how can it not be good for you? I get that if you spend much of the year inside and come out to play one month of the year, sun is baaaad. Most derms seem to agree that if you are out and about all year the skin learns to protect itself(natural protection).
    “pathetic sake of vanity” Sadly my tanning has very little to do with vanity and more to do with my ichtyosis. It truly is a cure, and I find life much more liberating without medicin.
    AGAIN; my post was not supposed to offend you, and I see why you react strongly. My point is that you should not overdo protection. I never said overdo tanning eighter, just that I was enjoying the sun without spf.
    “People was out and about in the sun ages before sunscreen and hardly anyone of them are known to be killed by cancer.” This is actually something I asked my derm about, and my conclution of my discussion with him. I’m not quite shure what you want me to say further about this subject.
    Sorry for the long post, I won’t bother me if you don’t read it. Just thought I should explain myself.

  28. I love the Jason Mraz’ ish hat types. Throw on a flannel, ripped denim shorts and boots and hello hammock and guitar. Welcome summer.

    To celar up confusion about my tan;
    I tan 1-3 hours daily in the real sun with no SPF. I do this all year, and never get burned. If you don’t have a base or you have skin that burns, do not take a walk in my shoes.
    Self tanners have proven to be quite dangerous(and you mostly end up looking like a human carrot), and tanningbeds…yeah, not woth mentioning.

    I love the sun, and the time I spend tanning is the only time I’m fully exposed. I do NOT believe in overuse of SPF or dressing like an eskimo. I do not believe in hooker-tans eighter. You know what I mean.

    Why I wrote what I did in post 1 was because that is how I feel. Anti sun propaganda is being shoved down our necks and I was trying to show some frustration. I think the SPF propganda is overdone, mainly because it only shows one side of the story.

    I hope my statement didn’t bother you to much. x

  29. Sunshine :

    I appreciate your explanation and apologise for lashing out. While I may not agree with your reasons, they are certainly understandable. I guess I need to deal with that chip on my shoulder…

    xoxo, Scarlett

  30. I’m forwarding this article to my tan-aholic roommates ASAP. Tanning is just not worth it. Especially when there are products like Jergens Natural Glow available – I absolutely swear by that stuff!

  31. First off i am not a college girl i am a father whose oldest daughter got malignant melanoma on one of her eyelids and am very concerned about the damage the sun does to a person skin especially the face. I am so glad to see all the information you supply in helping to protect ourselves from the suns damaging rays. There are other things out there that can help immensely without globing creams and sun screens all over our face. So take a look if you like i think you will be pleasantly surprised.

  32. I am a 56 yr old woman with alot of sun damage ( uneven skin tone and quite a few age spots). After just one use of the Lady Soma Facial Kit (which includes both the Renewal Cream and the Berry Masque) i could see a differance in the skin tone and slight fading of my age spots and even improved my few wrinkles, showing to be less apparent.

    BE CAREFUL when using the Lady Soma Berry Masque because it is very strong and wll make your skin red a bit – but it will fade. The redness is what takes away the age apots!!

    I have just used again and have to wait for about seven days to see the results but after seeing how it worked after just one time i am sure my skin will look even better.

    My husband even asked me what i was doing to my face,he said i looked so refreshed and i looked more youthfull,that convinced me that i will be useing Lady Soma in the future.

  33. I use the 3 Berry Serum from Made From Earth – Its moisturizes my 60+ skin and has repaired some of the sun damage I got from not using sun screen for most of my life. It doesn’t leave my face greasy or tacky. I can’t say enough good about it…..

  34. I have naturally pale skin. The skin on my nose has been red since I was a teenager due to sun damage years ago. I’ve been using dermalmd skin lighter serum for about a week and can already see the improvement! The smell is not very pleasant, but definitely worth the results I am getting.

  35. I agree to Frankie. She said rite, sun protection is very important for our skin and hairs beauty. So please avoid to going in sun light especially in summer season.

  36. Ariel have you tried the St. Tropez sunless tanner? Apparently it’s amazing and worth the money… if anyone here has tried it I’d be interested to see what they think?


Leave a Comment