A summer day at the beach can be super fun - and safe - if you protect yourself from the sun.

Gear Up for Summer Sun Protection

Your skin may not be topmost on your mind right-now, health-wise, but the more time you spend outdoors (and face it, we’re spending a lot of our time outdoors…) the more careful you need to be about sun protection.

Sun exposure is the biggest contributor (in addition to genetics) to skin aging and damage. And skin cancer is a very real threat – all three types of skin cancer are rising fast.

So here’s what you need to know to cover up well.

1. Shield Your Face

Sun hats or visors are a must for most outdoor activities. Even cyclists wearing helmets are better protected with a long-brimmed baseball hat underneath their helmets.

But all hats are not created equal at blocking rays. The best hats are made from sun-protective fabric, or straw that’s tightly woven or lined. You also want a hat with a wide brim that extends all the way around – baseball hats leave the sides of the face and neck exposed, as well as the tops of the ears.

Outdoor Gear Lab rates sun hats according to sun protection, comfort, breathability, and other factors. It’s also helpful if your hat has a tie, stretchy inner band, or some other way to stay on in the wind.

2. Cover Up

Unfortunately, many people are confused about the amount of sun protection they get from covering up with clothing. According to skin cancer experts, the average cotton T-shirt offers a UPF protection factor of 5, meaning that it blocks just one-fifth of ultraviolet rays.

Companies like REI, Coolibar, UVSkinz, and Solartex make clothing, hats and other gear out of specially designed fabrics that are rated like sunscreens for their ability to block up to 98 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Keep the budget down by purchasing one or two key pieces such as pants and a long-sleeved shirt, over-shirt, or a beach cover-up that you can throw on whenever you need protection. See Outdoor Gear Lab’s guide to the best sun shirts.

3. Protect Your Eyes

Sunglasses are not just for comfort or making a fashion statement, they’re an essential component of safe sun protection. That’s because UVA and UVB rays are damaging to the eyes as well, leading to macular degeneration and other age-related vision problems.

4. Wear Sunscreen – Always

Sunscreen is last on this list because it’s the least surprising – in fact, it’s the only kind of sun protection most of us use, and it’s not enough. It is, however, the basic minimum – experts advise us to wear sunscreen every single day, not just when we have outdoor activities planned. And wear plenty of it – recent consumer studies show that most people use too little and don’t re-apply often enough, undercutting effectiveness.

What kind to use? Choose one with an SPF of 15 or higher, experts say, and be sure it’s sweatproof or waterproof if you’ll be exercising or swimming. And make sure it’s one you’ll use – if you don’t like the smell or feel, it will stay in the cupboard. But not all sunscreens with these ratings are as effective as they claim; Consumer Reports offers a good guide to the best sunscreens of 2020. Choose one of the recommended products and you should be covered – but only if you use it according to doctors’ instructions.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.