I’ve achieved a certain level of notoriety among friends because of my obsessive sunblock habits. So they were shocked to learn, on a recent beach trip, that I fell asleep under the afternoon sun and neglected to put more sunblock.
On normal days, I apply sunblock on my face, neck, chest and arms, and dutifully reapply two hours later. Every day.
But such a religious (bordering on fanatical) habit has its drawbacks. On my last trip to Singapore for the Laneway Music Festival, I insisted on reapplying sunblock over my makeup, clogging my pores beyond belief. I ended up with a face full of angry, red acne.
My fear of UV rays has shocked even my dermatologist who certainly has a more lax approach to sunscreen: If you’re in the city, just apply once in the morning. Save the reapplication for the beach.
But what if I walk around outdoors a lot? Also, my car windows aren’t heavily tinted.
We reached a truce. If I must reapply, I have to wash my face with Cetaphil in the afternoon first to avoid congesting my pores, then put on a fresh application. I wanted to ask, what about my makeup? But then I thought that really wasn’t her problem anymore.
It was a similar situation at the BioBalance Wellness Institute where I tested positive for vitamin D deficiency, jeopardizing my body’s ability to synthesize calcium. I was prescribed at least 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure every day between 1 and 3 p.m.
I balked. That’ll give me wrinkles, I protested, not to mention skin cancer. What would you rather have, they asked in jest: wrinkles or osteoporosis?
Once again, we reached a common ground: They sent me home with a bottle of vitamin D supplements, and I agreed to “forget” to reapply sunblock occasionally at midday, but only on my arms.
But I suppose there’s a certain amount of relief that comes from acknowledging that the sun touches nearly everything on earth, and taking cover is truly futile, at times even unreasonable.
When I went to Bohol on a press junket arranged by Nivea Sun (quite aptly) for its annual beach getaway, there was little I could do about the rain that washed away my sponsored sunblock while I zip-biked my way toward a spectacular view of the Chocolate Hills.
When the sun reappeared, I couldn’t reapply because, understandably, we weren’t allowed to bring our bags with us on the obstacle courses at the Danao Adventure Park.
Also, after four hours of spelunking through the Sumaguing and Lumiang caves in Sagada, reapplying sunblock was the last thing on my mind at 2 p.m.—still a deadly hour for UVA and UVB exposure. I was nonplussed that my hands were covered in bat excrement, and there wasn’t a functional sink with a soap dispenser within sight.
And on my last trip to Zambales, where, for the first time in my life, I experienced camping out on the beach with nothing but a hut and a fine layer of sand for cover, I actually had to be peer-pressured by friends to apply sunblock.
Housed under that hut of pure happiness and simplicity, I couldn’t be bothered—another first for me.
On a side note, surfers neglect to reapply all the time, and they don’t look old and wrinkly. Is it because they get healthy doses of vitamin D and sea?
I totally swallowed the gospel of Baz Luhrmann in his 1998 song “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.” I believed that everyday application and reapplication was the golden rule when it came to sunblock, but the longer I practiced it, the more I’ve come to realize that there is no ideal. Apply too much and you can clog your pores. Apply too little and you run the risk of developing melanoma.
On the flip side, not applying at all at certain times of the day will increase your vitamin D levels.
So, what’s the happy middle? It’s entirely up to you—your skin type, your lifestyle and your priorities.
But there are a few things that I still think everybody should keep in mind when it comes to sun protection: It should always be at least SPF 30. Pay attention to PA (Protection Grade of UVA) levels. SPF protects you from UVB exposure (which causes sunburn), while PA guards against UVA radiation (which causes deeper skin damage).
If you’re on the beach, please try to use reef-friendly sunblocks, like the ones Human Nature makes. Chemical sunscreens cause coral bleaching, and considering that areas like the Great Barrier Reef face irreversible damage already, it’s a small thing everyone can do that has a great impact on the environment.
Lastly, please avoid using sunscreen that comes in an aerosol can. I think it’s now been made clear that those things aggravate global warming. Also, do you really want to be inhaling your sunscreen?