Don't forget the floppy hat, ladies. (Jamie Grill / Getty Images/Tetra…)
What's that smell? It's like … coconut and chemicals and a little bit of sweat? Oh don't worry, guys, that's just me, over here luxuriating in my Aveeno Natural Protection Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 sunblock.
I'm also rocking this wide-brim hat the size of a small beach umbrella just for good measure.
Every May, I feel a little bit lame the first time I baste my body in a quarter-inch thick layer of sunscreen, purchased by the gallon from Costco. It turns my already fair skin even more pale, to a shade that a Crayola crayon would probably call "translucent melanoma risk."
You know what looks even more lame, though? Sunburn. It hurts, it looks stupid (nice halter top tan lines, girl!) and it means you spent enough time in the sun to do damage to your body.
By the end of the summer, though, I'm done cursing my half-Lithuanian, green-eyed genes. I've figured out how to semi-fashionably outsmart the sun, and I'm flaunting a cute smattering of freckles rather than nasty red shoulders.
Let me share my hard-learned wisdom, kiddies!
First, find a good sunscreen, preferably from a skincare brand like Aveeno or Neutrogena. It might cost a little more, but it will feel great on your skin and won't clog your pores. Bonus points if it smells good. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 with protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
Second, consider this an excuse to buy summer clothes with more coverage. Believe me, I know how fly you look in that strapless sundress, but I guarantee your shoulders will thank you if you switch to short sleeves. Also, big hats are awesome—just think more along the lines of Rachel Zoe than Blossom.
Lastly, know your limits and reapply your sunscreen. For me, this means two to three hours of sun maximum, even when I'm guarded by my toughest, waterproof-iest sunblock. After that, I find a shady patio—preferably with margaritas. It's hard to tell if you're burning while you're outside, so don't be ashamed to do the hide-in-the-bathroom-and-poke-at-your-skin test. Come on, I know I'm not the only one.
But my biggest advice is to change the way you think about the sun. Sunburn isn't sexy. Skin that looks like the leather interior of my grandma's Buick isn't sexy. Healthy is sexy.
Even if you have that naturally olive, never-burned-a-day-in-my-life skin, remember you still need protection from the sun's harmful rays. Of course, I won't hold your radiant, bronzed glow against you, but I may ask you to rub some sunscreen on my back … that little spot between the shoulder blades … yep, you got it, thanks.
Kate Bernot is RedEye's nightlife and events reporter and was formerly the least tanned resident of New Jersey.
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