I Spent 3 Hours Topless in the Sun and Didn't Get Burned—My 3 Secret Weapons

We all know tanning is bad. But I still want to have some color, especially on my legs. However, unlike many of my fellow beauty editors and recovering lay-out-in-the-sun-obsessed friends, I still haven’t incorporated self-tanners or spray tans into my beauty routine. Instead, when I have the rare beach outing or pool day coming up, the girl who used to lay out in the sun for hours instantly resurfaces in me, and I instinctively break out the coconut-scented tanning oil. I just want to become a bronzed babe. Is that so wrong? 

To find out if there was a safe way to get some color, I asked MMSkincare founder and board-certified dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD. "Yes, and no,” she says. "The skin has melanin to protect our DNA from injury. A base tan is not considered safe because DNA mutations happen randomly, even from a little sun, not just from sunburns or chronic deep tans.” She goes on to say that there are always risks when exposing the skin to the sun, but the best way to protect yourself and cause the least amount of harm is by wearing sunscreen with at least 30 to 50 SPF and reapplying every one to two hours when spending extended periods in the sun.


(Image credit: @marielodiandreakos)

While I already knew a safe tan was too good to be true, I was still in denial. So, when I visited my friend Lola in New York during 80-degree weather (it was still chilly back home in L.A.), I was immediately on board when she suggested a day at the beach. Even better? Being topless at the beach in New York is legal, which means no tan lines, baby! I packed my bag of products, and this is where you might say I’m contradicting myself because although I was set on getting tanned, I still pulled out all of the stops for sun protection. I brought True Botanicals Skin Barrier Sun Shield, a mineral sunscreen I use on an alternating basis with Shiseido’s Urban Environment Oil-Free Sunscreen. I also packed Vacation’s SPF 30 Baby Oil. Although it’s inspired by how unsuspecting tanners in the ‘80s and ‘90s used to let their skin sizzle underneath the sun’s rays, this one has SPF 30. It wasn’t like I thought these products wouldn’t work. I just had some wishful (read: delusional) thinking that I would still get some color. After all, I tan easily.

I was out there in the sun for a total of three, yes, three hours. I was in heaven, topless and relaxing, as nature intended. I was fully facing the sun while my friends were shading themselves in Lola’s tent. I was sure I’d have a nice color. Well, I was completely wrong. After all that time, my skin was still the same color. I was absolutely shocked. The sunscreens I used did their job a little too well if you ask me! My takeaway from this experience? I need to stop trying to relive the tanning days of my youth and get a spray tan already. And for anyone out there looking for the best sun protection ever, try these three! I love Vacation’s entire lineup of suncare, and I’ve been loving True Botanical and Shiseido as everyday facial sunscreens. Plus, they work wonderfully underneath my makeup. 

Cassandra Bankson, YouTube creator, skincare expert, and medical aesthetician, shared tips on how to properly wear sunscreen with makeup. "Sunscreen should be applied at the last step of your skincare routine—before primer, concealer, foundation, etc.—but it can double as a moisturizer or a makeup primer with the added benefit of providing skin protection benefits,” she says. "For a more natural look, opt for lightweight formulas (like Supergoop!) that look and feel invisible on the skin.” Bankson is also launching Isntree Onion Newpair Sunscreen SPF 40 PA+++ with K-beauty brand Isntree. I’m very intrigued by this one because it’s a purple sunscreen that contains Muan red onion extract to even out skin tone and blur acne scars. The product will be on YesStyle and Stylevana on June 15 and on Amazon in July. 

Some days, I use my sunscreen as a moisturizer and primer, as Bankson suggests, but not all sunscreens work well when used that way. My favorite SPF primers are E.L.F. Cosmetics Suntouchable! (honestly obsessed and love that it’s $14) and Saint Jane Beauty (my game-changing primer).

Ahead, see more of my favorite sunscreens as well as new ones that I’m excited to try. 

Up next, These 29 AAPI- and Asian-Founded Beauty Brands Are on Their Way to Icon Status

Marie Lodi
Freelance Beauty and Fashion Writer/Editor

Marie has covered beauty, fashion, and lifestyle for almost 15 years. She contributes to the beauty section here at Who What Wear. Previously, she was the Looks Editor for Bust Magazine, built the beauty vertical at HelloGiggles as its beauty editor, and was a founding staff writer at Rookie mag, giving fashion advice to teens. Her bylines have appeared in The Cut, Allure, Glamour, The Hollywood Reporter, and more. She was born and raised in Southern California and is based in L.A. Marie is a self-proclaimed costume design nerd and a co-host of Makeover Montage, a podcast about fashion in film and costume design. You'll see her writing about her beauty obsessions: red lipstick, winged eyeliner, pink hair, nail art, and skincare for people over 40. When she's not working, she's playing with her dog, Gnocchi, and writing her style newsletter, Overdressed.