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Lessons:

Sunscreen,
A Love Affair

Sarah Brown on the best mineral SPFs you’ll want to wear on your face, on your body, and on the daily.
 

Written By SARAH BROWN

Photography by ANNA PALMA

Creative Direction by VICEN AKINA

Makeup by LAURE DANSOU

Hair by HOLLY MILLS

Styling by COCO CASSIBBA

Nails by HOLLY FALCONE


I am a bit of an SPF expert, and not initially by choice. If you’ve met me, I am probably the palest person you know (“translucent” pressed powder is my natural skin tone, for reference), and as follows, I have had to seriously, studiously, assiduously embrace sunscreen since way before it was cool.

I’ve had my share of burnt shoulders, rosy cheeks, and peeling noses (general childhood + sailing camp with zero adult supervision). I’ve even had an innocent-ish looking, freckle-like squamous cell carcinoma (that’s derm lingo for skin cancer) removed from my hairline—all documented in this piece for Vogue.

And when it comes to sunscreen, I’ve also tried everything. Which is handy, since it is now my actual job description to try everything so all of you can feel 1,000% confident that what we are serving up in our brand-new SPF Edit is genuinely the best stuff ever. And by best I mean the safest, the cleanest (for us, for the oceans), the lightest, the sheerest, the most blendable (because the best sunscreens are the ones you forget you are wearing and that work seamlessly with all skin tones), the most powerful (we only speak broad-spectrum high SPF around here), the most innovative (DNA repair? Help with hyperpigmentation? We got you.), the most apt to slip right into your regimen as another invisible layer (because we are here to curate your world class cosmetic wardrobe), and the chicest (because, duh, this is VIOLET GREY).

So: what’s the deal, what’s the news, and are there actually sunscreens out there a person would want to wear on their face, on their body, and on the daily? Read on!

LOVE THY SPF

First things first: “The sunscreen you should be using is the one you like to put on your face everyday. You really have to have almost a love affair with your sunscreen, because it is in a class by itself. It is different than our moisturizers or serums. “Sunscreen is an over-the-counter drug, the purpose of which is to prevent skin cancer.” These are the wise, wise words of Loretta Ciraldo, M.D. or Dr. Loretta, as she is known, is a Miami-based dermatologist, a VIOLET GREY Committee Member (of course), and was among the researchers in the Harvard photobiology labs back in the seventies (she was a med student) when they discovered that UVA rays were damaging to human skin—! So, Dr. Loretta is one of the true O.G.s of SPF O.G.s and high priestess of all sun damage-related information.


LET’S GET PHYSICAL

For our new SPF Edit, we have focused squarely on bringing onto THE SHELVES the best 100% mineral blocks we could find. This was not easy: all mineral blocks—formulas which rely upon finely ground-up natural materials like zinc and titanium dioxide to “physically” reflect the sun from the surface of our skin, like a mirror coating—are not created equal. Some are chalky (the active ingredients are pulverized minerals) and gunky, and let us say “challenging” to rub into the skin. We found the silky, smooth, non-pore-clogging superstars that our VIOLET LAB Curation team—and our VIOLET GREY Committee of Industry Experts—wanted to wear, ourselves, every day, under makeup, at the beach, in the car (that’s where the most incidental UV damage happens, FYI), and while we’re just minding our own business sitting next to a window on endless Zoom calls all day every day (even the gray overcast ones).

We love mineral-based blocks for a few key reasons: “There’s less risk of dermatitis and photoallergies, when the sun mixes with a chemical blocker to create an allergy. And it typically has better coverage, and stays on longer,” explains New York dermatologist (and VG Committee member) Dan Belkin, M.D. “If you can find a formula you like, I’d lean toward mineral. I think they’re better blockers, for sure.”

They’re reef-safe, meaning they do not contain active ingredients that have been shown to be damaging to living coral and marine life.


TINTED FORMULAS

Tinted formulas––like some of our favorites from Isdin and iS Clinical––can double as a tinted moisturizer or stand in for foundation, add a touch of all-over bronze if that’s your thing (just be careful of clothing transfer—test first, I say from experience!), and blend more seamlessly with darker skin tones. The benefits are not just cosmetic, either: “Tinted is the gold standard for people worried about hyperpigmentation,” explains New York derm Elyse Love, M.D. “Visible light can trigger hyperpigmentation, with or without UV exposure. Tinted sunscreens typically contain iron oxide, which has been shown to block visible light better than zinc and titanium. It’s not a UV filter, but it’s a supplement to a great UV filter.”

A WORD ON APPLICATION

Yes, you have to reapply—especially after swimming, playing sports and sweating—but the most important moment is the initial application. If you’re not covered, you’re not… covered. The sun does not care that you had good intentions. If you really want to make sure that you have covered every inch of your body, do what I do: Apply your initial application of sunscreen while standing in front of a mirror naked. The bonus is that, if you have rubbed the stuff in sufficiently, you will also get far less (or perhaps none at all) smeared on the edges of your swimwear, my personal longstanding pet peeve. This practice takes a good five minutes, and I’ve come to find that it’s sort of a nice ritual. Self-care? Sort of!

Don’t forget the tops of feet, between toes, and behind ears! And your hands!!! For vanity’s sake, I re-apply to my hands, and décolleté, like a maniac.

SHOP MINERAL SUNSCREENS

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A cult classic across Europe and a VIOLET LAB absolute fave, Barcelona-based Isdin is packed with peptides, antioxidants, and DNA repair mechanisms. The silky fluid feels just about weightless. We love it for both face and body, city and beach.

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Available in two tints plus a sheer version, this elegant stuff is so creamy and light you will not realize it’s sunscreen. Antioxidant-rich formula guards against free radical damage and moisture loss.

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Created by a former pro snowboarder and surfer, this new VG obsession—bolstered by rosehip seed and avocado oil—feels great on skin, looks great on the shelf, and the price is right.

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The best sunscreens are the ones you actually want to use every day. Supergoop’s airy, subtly pink-tinted Zincscreen is so lovely and light it actually works as a primer under makeup.

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Founder Tina Craig is a confessed sunscreen maniac. Her debut SPF cream is a multi-tasker, just like her. It promises to help correct existing hyperpigmentation while protecting against future photo-damage.

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If you haven’t heard, Dr. Gross makes some of the best sunscreen in the land. In its snappy yellow tube, this lightweight, oil-free, ferulic acid-bolstered, blue light-blocking formula predictably does a little bit of everything.

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A non-nano zinc-powered SPF formulated just for the delicate skin under eyes. Hydrates, brightens, helps conceal dark circles, and diminishes puffiness, too.

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Calming thermal water from the Lanquedoc region of France plus niacinamide plus SPF 50? In a silky, fragrance-free fluid? Oui.