How (not) to feel the burn - the best SPFs on the market for men

How (not) to feel the burn - the best SPFs on the market for men

Last summer, tanlines became fashionable. At the Jacquemus spring/summer 2020 fashion show on a 1,600-foot fuchsia carpet catwalk, amidst rows of lavender in Provence, svelte male models sported a farmer’s tan. Le coup de soleil, the collection was called. Sunburn, in French.

On the runway, there was the pale outline of a watch on a wrist and a short sleeve t-shirt making its mark on tanned or slightly scorched arms made possible by talented makeup artists. Tanlines are a cosmetic misfire but here they were, presented as something sexy, a tenet of youthful masculinity where mistakes make the wearer more desirable. It was a perfect complement to a collection with a youthful frisson.

But, of course, sunburn isn’t sexy. It’s uncomfortable, it’s unattractive, and it’s painful. Beyond that, it’s dangerous. Sunburn is skin damage caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays which can cause the skin to turn red and painful, and potentially lead to peeling or blistering. It is no sacrifice for an eventual tan. Overexposure to UV rays can not only lead to prickly heat or early ageing of the skin and wrinkling but the damage can lead to skin cancer.

Sunburn can vary in its extremities: from a pinch on the cheeks to a heavily-blistered serrano chili or, embarrassingly, a blotchy alabaster and tomato pattern from poorly-applied sunscreen that makes the body look like a walking Abstract Expressionist painting. The latter is best seen on your Facebook timeline.

Some are more prone to burning than others. Melanin, a dark pigment in the upper layers of the skin, can protect the skin from some of the effects of UV rays, but from person to person, levels of melanin can be different.

Irish men are well-acquainted with sunburn. Mostly fair-skinned, on the first sunny days, the Irish are to the beach what a moth is to light. In droves, we flock to the nearest beach in search of some reprieve from incessant rainfall and blankets of clouds. However, we pay the consequences.

“The downside is that most Irish skin is not designed for sun exposure and rapidly develops sun damage, premature aging, and skin cancers,” said Dr. Rosemary Coleman, consultant dermatologist for the Centre for Restorative Dermatology in Blackrock, Co. Dublin.

While this summer might not see as much international travel as years previous in light of travel restrictions and mandated quarantines, it remains important that men subscribe to a skincare regimen that involves sun care.

“The big mistake the Irish make is underestimating the strength of Irish sunshine,” said Dr. Coleman. “If they're abroad in the 27-degree sun they reapply sunblock throughout the day. However, a common perception is that the Irish sun is not as 'strong' and that they either need very little or no sun protection at all.” The most common sites for skin cancers include the skin on the back of our necks, behind our ears, especially considering men’s hair is commonly worn short and these areas are, thus, exposed to more UV rays.

Furthermore, as our hair provides natural sun-protection for our scalps, early hair loss can have more challenges than cosmetic ones. According to Dr. Coleman, “the earlier a man starts to lose his hair the higher his chance of developing skin cancer on their scalp. The sooner they start to wear a cap every time they walk outdoors the better. Remember also that the sun travels through the glass so they are still vulnerable in a car, the office, or with a sunroof in their vehicle.” The benefits of sun-related skincare are manifold. Not only does it protect one from UV rays but it can act as a moisturiser. Dr. Coleman encourages men to find a moisturiser with a factor 50 (and UVA block) and to incorporate applying it first thing in the morning after washing their teeth. That way they don't have to stop, assess the weather and risk getting 'caught out’ in the sun.

The American cosmetics brand Kiehl’s provides a consortium of products that one can incorporate into their routine for best results for healthy, revitalised skin but also broad-spectrum protection from the sun’s rays. One should consider the Activated Sun Protector SPF 50 (RRP €35 for 150ml) or the Ultra Light Daily UV Defense Aqua Gel (RRP €36 for 125ml). The star of Kiehl’s is the moisturiser Facial Fuel SPF19 (RRP €36 for 125ml), caffeine and vitamin-infused non-oily formula that has been catapulted to the forefront of men’s skincare. In simple terms, it’s reliable.

Susanne Kaufmann’s Body Broad Spectrum Sun Protection SPF 25 (RRP €69 for 100ml) is a versatile option for one’s everyday routine. To begin, the vegan and gluten-free product features no sulphates, genetic engineering, or animal testing, a testament to the beauty industry’s advances towards cleaner products. The unisex product can be used on the entire body protecting the skin from UV rays and premature ageing while offering a revitalising and moisturising finish on all skin types.

Sprays are often more suitable for thinning scalps or hairy chests. French brand La Roche-Posay offers reliable, affordable options.

Moreover, it is worth mentioning that sunscreen is the best anti-aging cream out there. “I've noticed a big increase in men's interest in preserving and improving their skin's appearance over the past few years,” said Dr. Coleman. “Regularly men in their 60's and 70's come to our clinic to improve a ruddy complexion and reduce redness both of which could have been largely prevented by the wearing of sun protection.” The sun’s kiss is a nice touch. A healthy glow is one of the most alluring aspects of sun-worshipping itself. But you don’t want to feel the sun’s bite.

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