Across the skin tone spectrum, protecting yourself from sun damage should be a top daily priority—especially in the summer. This is a time of stronger sunshine, longer days, and more exposure to potentially harmful UVA and UVB rays. “That exposure to these rays can cause premature aging, sunburn, and skin cancers,” comments L.A. celebrity esthetician Cynthia Franco, personal facialist to stars like Salma Hayek, Lucy Boynton, and Amber Heard. Of course, the sun can provide a great source of vitamin D—if you get it before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., clarifies Franco—but it’s important to know what products and habits to adhere to (and to avoid) before, during, and after sun exposure to minimize your risk.
“For the skin enthusiast who is looking to use products and protect their skin while spending time in the sun, there are a few things to consider,” says Franco, who swears by the following advice for her celebrity clients, most of whom live in Southern California—a place where the sun gets especially strong. Keep scrolling for this celebrity facialist’s best sun care know-how.
Even 20 minutes of sun time in the summer can darken your spots and elevate your cancer risk, so sunscreen should be worn “by everyone and every day,” says Franco. Layer it over top of a (well-formulated) vitamin C serum to repair the skin and fight free radical damage. Franco also recommends applying vitamin C in the evening.
Franco’s favorite product picks? Epicuren’s Zinc Oxide Perfecting Sunscreen 27, which is clean and reef safe, and Dr. Dennis Gross’s Vitamin C and Collagen Serum.
Intense exfoliators can help brighten your skin, even its tone and texture, prevent breakouts, and minimize the look of fine lines and wrinkles—but Franco says ingredients like retinol, AHAs (like glycolic and lactic acids), and BHAs (like salicylic acid) belong in your winter skincare routine. “Save these until the shorter cooler months,” she says. “Moderate to heavy sun worshippers should completely abstain from chemical and physical exfoliations.” Why? A few top layers of skin cells actually protect you during the summer, and removing them makes you more photosensitive (aka, you can get a negative reaction to the sun).
If you want to keep up the cell turnover while healing your skin, Franco recommends swapping your retinol and exfoliating acids for Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF). Her favorite AQ Solutions Active Serum EGF has many of retinol’s benefits without the sun-related risks.
A couple more sun-care ingredients to have in your arsenal? Franco says that folks with melasma, hyperpigmentation, and freckles should look for products containing the ingredient arbutin, which has proven effective for brightening dark spots and is safe and tolerable for sensitive skin. Also, incorporate hyaluronic acid into your summer skincare routine. This hydrating ingredient “can be used to moisturize and plump dehydrated skin without side effects,” Franco says.
If you’ve found your way to this article because you’ve already got yourself a sunburn (bad summer baby!), Franco has a treatment for you: “Epicurien Noni Extract with Aloe Vera can heal a slight sunburn overnight,” she says. “Severe burns can use AQ Solutions Active Serum to heal in half the time.”
Here’s the real tea: Ten thick layers of Coppertone will never do the trick in keeping your skin from harm like physical protection—that means hats, umbrellas, UVB/UVA protective clothing, and pure zinc oxide. You better believe that when Salma Hayek goes in the sun, Franco’s voice is whispering in her brain, “Wear a hat! Wear a hat!” And you should be, too.
In addition to retinol and other chemical exfoliants, there are other sneaky skincare ingredients that can make you more susceptible to sun damage. According to Franco, these include essential oils like bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, mandarin, verbena, cumin. “These should be avoided in skincare products you use as well as perfumes and oils that contain these,” she says.
“There are also medications such as birth control, NSAIDs [for pain relief], blood pressure, and many more that can cause sun sensitivity as well,” says Franco. “Make sure to research all meds you take before lounging more than 15 minutes in the sun!”