On Camp: Not Burning Your Skin, A Kit and Lifestyle Guide

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I really want to go in a pool right now. But damn it all to hell I forgot to buy sunscreen.

I need to buy sunscreen. I can’t really go anywhere in the sun without it, because as far as “women of color” go I’m kind of a porcelain doll. Whatever. I’m 50 percent Italian and 50 percent Puerto Rican and 100 percent strangely pale. And I gotta say, sunscreen is kind of a great thing — especially when it’s the right thing. And it’s on top of my Autostraddle Camp packing list, next to “backup sunglasses” and “subtly revealing top.” I promise, Mom. The last thing I want when facing 200 other lesbians in the sun-filled woods is to look like I was cooked to rare and then set free at the Jersey Shore.

So here’s my five favorite sun products and my five secret tips for never burning your skin, ever. Unless you’re in the desert or something with no resources, money, or way to get inside. But hey, if you have the internet you’re never really alone. Nice iPhone.

5 Sunscreens You Could Be Using

Your skin is gonna be so nice this summer that you’re going to forget about the time you missed class for three days because you forgot your mom’s sample-size generic brand sunscreen in your luggage. Did you know skin products are for adults now? Maybe you’ll even feel so sexy and not burned by the sun that you’ll let it all hang out this summer. (Please remember to reapply.)

Before you buy a sunscreen, begin a sun care ritual, or do your morning yoga today, please read Allure’s 11 Sun Protection Tips from Dermatologists because it will change your life.

Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock

Even though I doubt there is anything better than any Neutrogena skin product ever, I gotta say that using this line of what is pretty much SPF-infused facial lotion makes me feel completely fabulous. I remember that putting sunscreen on in middle and high school was kind of like resigning myself to feeling sticky and smelling like I did in the fifth grade at summer camp. But once I upgraded to “the real stuff,” there it was. This was how I found out that adults call sunscreen “sunblock.”

Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus

Avon’s Skin So Soft line is full of thin, sweet-smelling sunblock that is also infused with magical ingredients, or more likely chemicals, that prevent bugs from biting your skin while the sun burns it at the same time.

Dermalogica Solar Defense Wipes

If you’re trying not to get caught with Coppertone Baby 50 SPF lotion falling out of your slightly torn and slightly patched backpack, it’s your lucky day, because suncreen in a wipe is the way of the future. It’s only SPF 15, but that’s all you need for a light afternoon of sun anyway. And oh, the places you’ll go without worrying about whether or not your sunscreen is squeezing out all over your books, laptop, and keys. Did I mention it smells like flowers?

SuperGoop Sunstick

This sounds like as much fun as portable sun care products are capable of being. Imagine being caught off-guard by the sun when walking back from your one-night stand. Imagine being able to do it without freaking out about sunburn! I hope she makes you breakfast.

BullFrog Sunblock

This isn’t glamorous. It smells like an intensive care unit, or maybe like putting the sunscreen and the after-burn lotion on at once. Or kind of like medical offices. But if you’re hiking or exposing yourself to the rays of the sun for an extended period, or if you’re me and you hate the idea of getting sunburn at your local college baseball game because you can’t wear a hat, you’re going to cave to the clearly superior suncare line of BullFrog. If a sunscreen is so thick it coats you in a cool gel coating that smells like the facial equivalent of Vicks VapoRub, what else can you ask for? It’s clearly working.


I feel guilty not admitting that I use Coppertone sometimes because I still love that girl and that dog and how fucking adorable and vintage that is.

5 Ways to Keep Your Cool

Being outside in the sun isn’t always about walking up a long hill and smoking a cigarette and thinking, “Did I get sunburn yet? Do I have it on my face? Why am I so hot?” Sometimes it’s about being prepared to face the summer sun like a real bad bitch, and look right at the sun through your 100-percent UV Block Ray-Bans so to say “hit me with your best shot.” It’s beautiful out and you look so good in bloomers. Please leave your apartment or at least open the windows.

1. Bring Back Hats

I know everyone teases you for buying that Boy Scout hat at the thrift store, but what if it could save your pretty little face from being the color of a tomato? Would it be worth it then?

Picking a hat to stay safe from the sun in can be super fun. I know Lizz is the resident fashion maven, but here’s some of my personal favorite ideas for hats that keep UV rays conveniently located around and not on your cheekbones.

If you’re thinking about hats and you’re having negative feelings, you either have a hairstyle like mine or you aren’t thinking of the right kind of hat! Please do take the time to consider sunhats, caps, cowboy hats, and any other kind of hat you think looks nice on your hot bod. (Another tip? Oversized sunglasses and a hat make an indestructible sun-avoidance team.)

your hat should be larger than this hat

2. Eat On the Porch, Not the Deck

Brunch is super nice outside in the sun, but once I did it and ended up with raccoon eyes just from one mimosa in my aviators. And we even had a covered table! So remember: patios are nice but porches are better. Decks are pretty but porches are better. Awnings are your friend and so are sunrooms with super open windows. If you’re gonna be staying a while outside, try to find some shelter.

3. Do Your Errands From 12-4

If the sun is out in the morning, afternoon, and early evening, then why are you gonna fuck with it when it’s being really super horrible? There is plenty of time to sit in the grass and pick flowers, ladies. Try to arrange your sun schedule so that you’re in the shade, inside, or really really really ready to face the impending doom of After Burn Cream from the hours of 12 PM to 4 PM each day, when the sun’s rays are harshest. You can thank me later. Or now.

4. Bring an Umbrella

I know that right now you’re imagining being the person with a half-broken travel-size umbrella looming overhead at the nude beach. No.

It’s a proven fact that nothing makes life in the sun more pleasant than shade; enjoying sunlight from a distance, keeping your eye on the pool while still basking in the warm afternoon to the sound of your pool toys bobbing, and even standing under the awning at the snack shack makes a day in the sun a little less exhausting. Shade has been everyone’s favorite thing ever since it was invented in the Garden of Eden. Why do you think those two kids got stuck under that tree?

Being the girl with an umbrella over her deck furniture is probably the number one popularity mechanism in the Western world. And bringing one to the beach? Surefire way to not only get attention from the babes, but also to offer them some lemonade in the shade should you see them squinting too much from the soft waves of the beach. Invest in an adorable one now and it might even match your pool towel.

5. Wear Light Layers, AKA Sleeves

Have you ever seen things that appear to keep you warm, but actually don’t? If there’s a breeze out, if you live by the beach, or if you’re not actually going to be outside for that long but there’s not a cloud in the sky, the answer to keeping yourself sunburn free may be in your closet. Think about unbuttoning your button-down and wearing it over a tank top with shorts, or rolling up the sleeves on your denim shirt. Wear one of those cardigans that’s actually made out of a fabric thinner than tissue paper. Maybe even just wear a tee shirt, for God’s sake. Just cover your shoulders for a second.

Sunburn is the kind of thing, like a torn-up knee or a good pair of sunglasses or a great strapless bra, that has the potential to change the entire course of your summer. It can also be extremely painful and kind of unsightly and, let’s not lie, it kind of sucks overall. So why deal with it? Take the extra effort, y’all. It will be very worth it — now and in the future.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. I come in two shades, beige and lobster, so this is exceedingly relevant to my interests.

    Also, I kind of hate everyone putting things on their to do lists for A-Camp. I’m sorry, I just have to. Still, I hope you all have fun. And then feel really sad about how much better it would be if I was there.

    • I come in two shades, too: pale and puffy lobster (read: allergic as heck to sunscreen). Normally, I wear chemical-free, hippy-oriented sunscreens that cost approximately a million dollars a bottle and life is fine (minus the coinciding poverty). Unfortunately, the first time my [black] girlfriend and I hit a beach vacation together, someone got a tinytinytiny bit of spray-screen on me and I proceeded to blow up like a hot-air balloon.

      GF, meanwhile, is all “is this just a normal white people thing? ‘Cause y’all should just stay they heck out of the sun.”

      • Have you tried Anthelios made by La Roche Posay? They’re not as expensive as other specialised skincare ranges. They make a sunblock line for super allergic and sensitive skin but I don’t know if you’d be allergic to it or not, so check out the ingredient list first!

      • I have two shade too, see through then ginger with a sunburn. I love that this article included coppertone. I use the baby sunblock because its not thick and it doesn’t make your face break out. Bonus: it smells amazing :)

    • also, don’t even worry because i will be here and we will have so much fun together. we can play board games!

  2. Growing up on an island as the palest little apple on my family tree, I got so many terrible, horrible burns as a kid because some adults thought I was capable of a “base tan”. Actually, I need the highest f*cking SPF and I have to put it on naked because I’ll burn through clothes.

    I had no idea I could Subscribe & Save sunblock on Amazon! I just did, Neutrogena 100+ for life. It’s expensive, but the best. Some stuff gives me rashes sometimes, but Neutrogena never has and it’s not even worth trying other stuff anymore.

    • I remember other kids being amazed that I couldn’t tan. For years I have used the explanation: I am like peppermint. I go from white, to red, to white.

      So yes. This article = relevant to my interests. (Where “my interests” = “facets of my general health that I need to stop ignoring”.)

  3. A million times yes to the Neutrogena Dry Touch stuff. I tend to break out on my arms/hands in the sun, and that is my absolute favorite brand. The higher SPFs contain helioplex, and it’s wonderful.

  4. Also, if you’re at the beach and it’s only about 60 degrees and it’s cloudy, you can still burn.

      • Oh god, they *are*. Sneaky, deceptive things. And you can get the worst sunburns on those days, too, ‘cos it’s all the invisible rays that are actually the worst for your skin.

        • yes! that’s how i always end up with lobster thighs, and there is literally nothing cute about having burnt — or even tan — thighs when the rest of you is pale. i’m just sitting in the shade, GOD

  5. Hmmm this light layers thing sounds quite appealing, yet how do I avoid becoming a sweaty mass of human? Denim sounds heavy, so like paper-thin materials?

  6. This article is super helpful to my ginger self. I completely agree about the Neutrogena. It is kind of pricey, but totally worth it and doesn’t make you feel all sticky after applying.

  7. Thanks, this is all very good advice! I had never heard of the solar defence wipes, even the name is awesome. And you’re right: shade is the coolest thing ever.

    I also never knew the difference between a deck and a porch and now I do. Autostraddle is so informative!

    • Ahh – nope. Sorry about that. She was the Coppertone girl in the commercials, not the ad print.

  8. As a recreational road cyclist/professional Geologist in Houston, TX (I rode 125 miles total over two days this weekend, for example) I just want to massively endorse Bullfrog. I’m actually blessed with skin that tans well, but I don’t want sun damage/cancer/leathery skin/a tail. Also I live in Houston and holy crap is the sun intense. Bullfrog does the trick and keeps me from getting burnt, even with all the sweating and the wiping and the dirt and grime that accompanies long distance road cycling/geologising in the field. Go Bullfrog!

    • OMG i meant that to be just a – use this because it really works and I stay a nice pasty white because of it but it sounds like a cheesy 80s commercial. HA. Ok Bullfrog where is my check?

  9. My god, how amazing is that Neutrogena Dry Touch stuff? I absolutely approve. I am also a fan of Coppertone Sport; it is also good for the non-greasy and actually effective-ness.

    I am the worst sort of porcelain-pale freckly ginger, and I burn like a motherbitch. Skin cancer runs in my family as well, so I always have to be madly careful about my skin. Two summers ago, I worked as a street canvasser, so I was out all day in the blazing sun trying to hawk people charity causes; my co-workers all mocked me because I would reapply about every two hours to keep from burning. But it worked, so put that in your pipe, etc.

  10. “Wear Light Layers, AKA Sleeves”

    THIS. So much.

    I not only burn easily, but I also have a tendency to break out in hives at the beginning of the summer, before my skin fully adjusts to the change in sun exposure. Last summer, long sleeves saved me a world of misery when I spent three days camping in the Egyptian dessert. So, it might seem counterintuitive, but yeah– SLEEVES.

  11. I have medium skin and tan easily but I’m still super careful about my skin, especially because I tend to get sun spots on my face and it’s not cute!! Plus all the other downsides to over-exposing your skin to sun.

    I wear La Roche Posay SPF 50 under my make up every day, it’s a bit pricey but really light and non-greasy. I love it!


    Seriously, I’m not even kidding having to figure out a rash on my back was actually sun-burn changed my young life forever. I like to use the Neutrogena sun block so I don’t get skin cancer.

    The peeling, oh god, the peelings was soooo not sexy. Goddamn.

  13. I have no problem with sunscreen in general, but I don’t like the stuff that comes in tubes that you drag out over your skin. It looks like it can’t decide whether to be a glue stick or a tube of chapstick. And since I was an art major in college (which often required lots of glue sticks) I would rather not prevent sunburns by having to resort to using it. So I use sunscreen (primarily whatever is cheapest whenever I need to buy it) and hats/headscarves/etc. (The only problem with the headscarves is that they give me awkward tan lines. But at least I dont burn that way.) And after-burn stuff is now my best friend, after I went out last summer and got horribly sunburned.

  14. I’m late to the party. What is Autostraddle camp? I’ve assumed this is a figurative term until now.

  15. For face sunblock, it is kind of expensive but Philosophy’s the Supernatural is sunscreen with primer. It makes your face matte and it sort of yellow in the bottle which is supposed to reduce the apparence of redness (I can’t say I notice that much) You can layer with makeup or just wear it as is, and I love it.

    Also sleeves. I used to live in a tropical climate and can tell you the more skin exposed=serious burn whereas just adding a bit more cloth helps a lot, along with sunscreen of course.

  16. One of my friends has a rainbow umbrella. She takes it to the beach. I just wear loads of sunscreen (I use a milky lotion on my whole body, a sticky one on my face, and zinc on my nose and chin some days) and a whole collection of really dorky hats. I’m a sailor, so go figure.

  17. BullFrog is the best. I rock climb. I wear very little when doing it. It gets Hella Hot on a rock face. BullFrog keeps my fair skin protected and also, also, also..That shit stays on! I got turned onto it by a bunch of surfers in Oahu. Nothing sucks more than having to constantly reapply sunscreen when things are cranking out there! Can’t disagree with anything you said describing it..But the shit really works!

  18. Sunscreen is my best friend in the summer. I use the spray on kind and have to reapply it constantly but I haven’t had a sunburn in years, so it works.

  19. I honestly thought that dark-skinned people couldn’t get sunburned until last summer when I did. To be fair, it was like 115 every day and I was outside waaaay too much. (Nobody should even consider going outside when it’s that hot) I am going to use sun-block so hard now it’s not even funny.

  20. I work outdoors and I got my first sunburn of the season today. Yikes. If you do get burnt, I highly recommend Sun Bum’s Cool Down lotion. I picked some up at the beach last year when I got burnt (I know, I never learn my lesson) and am going to use it again this year. It’s not sticky like regular aloe and it keeps me from peeling. Also reduces the extent to which I resemble a lobster.

  21. I don’t tan, I’m either ridiculously pale or sunburned. Hell, I used to be a lifeguard and would be the only person at the end of the summer who didn’t have a tan. If it’s nice out and I’m going to spend time outside, I always use sunscreen.

  22. One time while camping burnt my cleavage so badly that it blistered, pussed, and bled for two+ weeks. I still have minor scarring from that. Moral of the story is boobs are prettier when you wear sunblock.

    • I just clutched a hand to my boobs in a manner embarrassingly reminiscent of a guy after a balls hitting story is told.

  23. Interesting side note – you can’t buy any sunscreen in Australia over “30+.” Apparently there are such diminishing returns for any SPF over 30 that people get more sunburned because they think their Magical SPF 100 is more than three times as powerful as that wimpy SPF 30 when really it’s only about 5% more effective (note: I pulled that figure out of my ass).

  24. Yeah, I’m one of those Irish, freckled, super pale people, and I get horrendously burnt if I don’t reapply hourly, sometimes even then I still get burnt.

    Going to order some of that bullfrog stuff for this summer (assuming I have any money to go anywhere with sun)

  25. Just on the topic of dark skinned people and sunblock:

    “African Americans are more likely to die from melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — than are white people.”

    This is because it isn’t noticed as early as on white skin, meaning that it tends to be a later stage when diagnosed. The most common warning sign for black people is a new or growing mole on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

    The more you know….

  26. Ah man! I’m in Spain right now and read this yesterday, then today I did all the things, and I still got a f***ing sunburn! Seriously?

  27. I could have done with this a few months back when I first got to Australia. My skin seems to enjoy the attention from the sun a bit more now though (I’m tanned for the first time ever wahoo!). I agree with the hats, I’ve got a proper croc wrangling hat, Steve Irwin style. The best thing ever. Try being in the QLD heat in the middle of the day shifting crocs, it SUCKS without a hat on.

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