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Getting Started Tips: Suncare and Sunscreen

Suncare and Sunscreen Basics

When I started my hiking journey I basically went from the couch to the trails.  I hadn’t been spending a lot of time outdoors beforehand and I didn’t do a very good job of protecting my skin.  With blonde hair and a red beard my skin and the sun do not mix very well.  I wanted to make sure new hikers didn’t make the same suncare and sunscreen basics mistakes that I did.  So I found an expert to give some more information about sunscreen basics.

The Expert

Joining me today is Michelle Crews who is the founder of the Trail Tribe Suncare Company.  Trail Tribe and Michelle have developed a mineral based, environmentally friendly line of suncare products that avoid chemicals and other toxins.  You can read more about Trail Tribe here.

Sunscreen Basics

The Fatman: Michelle, thank you so much for joining me to talk about suncare and sunscreen basics.  There are a million options out there so I guess my first questions are, Is all sunscreen made the same?  Are there differences in chemical makeups or is brand A just as good as the generic store brand?

Michelle Crews, Founder Trail Tribe Suncare: Thank you so much for having me Greg,  I love sharing my knowledge of sunscreen and best skin protection practices.

There are many options on the market and many differences as well, so to answer your question, no, all sunscreens are not the same. The main difference is chemical vs. mineral formulas. Chemical formulas have active ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone where mineral (also known as physical) formulas active ingredients is zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

The FDA published research in 2019 showing that chemical formulas absorb into the skin and may cause hormone disruption. Therefore, the EWG (Environmental Working Group) recommends avoiding chemical sunscreens. (Editor Note: The FDA posted more information from a second study in 2020 you can read here.)

Mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and reflect UVA/UVB rays, as opposed to absorbing into the skin. The latest in skin care research shows that non-nano zinc oxide is the safest ingredient available in suncare products on the market today so when choosing your suncare products these are the things to keep in mind. 

The orange sun rising over a mountain range just outside of canyonlands National park.  Suncare and Sunscreen are important for all the trips to national parks.
The sun rising over the mountains surrounding Canyonlands.


FM: What is the difference between UVA and UVB light when it comes to protecting my skin?  Are there other types of light that cause damage that I need to protect from?

MC: Great question. UVA and UVB rays can both harm the skin. UVA rays penetrate deep into the layers of the skin and causes premature aging, which includes fine lines and wrinkles. UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn because they penetrate the outer layer of the skin and cause damage to skin cells.

A great way to remember the difference between the two UV rays  is “A” for aging and “B” for burning. Too much exposure from either can play a part in causing skin cancer. For this reason, it is important to use sun protection year round. Also, you want to look for “Broad Spectrum Protection” on your sunscreen labels as this indicates it protects from both UVA/UVB. 

Editor Note: In a follow up email after the interview Michelle wanted to point out a few things about “Blue Light”, or light from screens, that she didn’t mention originally. She states that, “wearing sunscreen like ours indoors also protects you from the blue light we are exposed to from all our screens. Blue light can penetrate the skin but not enough research has proven it to be damaging”. Michelle continues to mention that mineral based sunscreen like Trail Tribe “offers preventative protection” from indoor Blue Light damage risks.

What does SPF really mean?

FM: Let’s talk a little bit about SPF.  What do the numbers actually mean?  Is this like a system where you start with a high number and work your way down as the summer progresses?  Are there numbers that are so low as to not provide coverage or too high that they don’t add any extra protection?

MC: Another great question. This one is a little more complicated. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, a relative measurement for the amount of time the sunscreen will protect you and the percentage of protection from UV rays that it provides. So ideally, with SPF 30 it would take 30 minutes longer to burn or show skin damage than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen. Also an SPF 30 allows 3% of UVB rays to hit your skin (providing 97% protection).

An SPF of 50 allows only 2% of those rays. A higher SPF protection and broad spectrum coverage offers more protection against sunburn, UVA damage, and DNA damage comparable to products with lower SPF values when reapplied properly. Although it is good to keep in mind that no sunscreen available today protects 100%, therefore an SPF higher than 50 may only add a minimal increase of protection. 

The sun sitting over a mountain while a trail stretches across a ridgeline running up towards the mountain.  Suncare and Sunscreen are important at higher elevations where the sun can be more intense.
The sun at higher elevations can be even more intense.

Protection from Clothes

FM: Do all clothes protect me from the sun or do they have to have an SPF rating too?

MC: Clothing does provide some level of protection from UV radiation, but not all fabrics and colors provide equal protection. Clothing is rated a little different than skin care so instead of and SPF rating , clothing has a UPF rating. While some clothing has a label marked with the UPF factor ( Ultraviolet Protection Factor) many clothing items do not say what the UPF of the fabric is.

Some factors to consider while choosing clothing with sun protection in mind is: Dark and bright colors keep UV rays from reaching your skin by absorbing them rather than allowing them to penetrate. Densely woven cloth are more protective than sheer, thin or loosely woven cloth, and the composition of your fabric really matters. Unbleached cotton contains natural lignins that act as UV absorbers. Shiny polyesters and even lightweight satiny silks can be highly protective because they reflect radiation. High-tech fabrics treated with chemical UV absorbers can prevent some penetration from UV rays as well. 

Is Being Tan having Protection?

FM: Once I establish a base tan do I have to worry about suncare? I mean the skin is already tan so it is just going to get darker right?

MC: While a suntan is a natural response of the skin trying to protect itself from the damaging UV rays, people who get a lot of exposure to UV rays are at a much higher risk for skin cancer and irreversible skin damage. Dermatologists always recommend wearing and SPF of 30 or more regardless of how dark your skin may be. 

Types of Protection

FM: Do sunscreen and suncare products only protect against sunburns?

MC: Definitely no, and what is great about the latest in skin care research is the added natural ingredients to mineral sunscreens, such as Trail Tribe’s Outdoor daily defense formulas, that not only protect the skin against sunburn, skin damage, and skin cancer, it also protects against pollution.

Our formulas sit on the surface of the skin and absorb the free radicals in the air while reflecting the harmful rays of the sun, and our scientists also added a powerhouse antioxidant, vitamin C, for added moisturization. Our formulas were made to be a healthy part of your daily skin care routine.

The Winter Sun

FM: If I am hiking or skiing in the winter and it’s only like 10 degrees out, does the sun still affect me the same as in the summer?

MC: UVB rays, the main cause of sunburn, are the strongest in the summer. However, UVB rays can burn and damage your skin year-round, especially at higher altitudes and on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice. Snow reflects 80% of the sun’s UV light, so the rays hit you twice, further increasing your risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

UVA rays remain constant throughout the year and can penetrate through clouds and fog. UVA rays can also penetrate glass, so it’s still possible to damage your skin while spending bright winter days in a car or near indoors through windows. 

The side of a mountain covered in snow with footsteps of a trail leading across the snow. Above is blue skies dotted with clouds. Suncare and Sunscreen are important even on cold winter days.
One of the sunscreen basics I struggle with is remembering that cold weather doesn’t mean no risk.

Cloudy Days Suncare

FM: If I am hiking on a summer day but it is cloudy, do I need to worry about sun care products or do the clouds provide plenty of protection?

MC: Yes, for similar reasons as the hiking in the winter months. The UVA rays especially penetrate through the clouds. The clouds do not provide sun protection.

Lotion vs. Aerosol

FM: Is it better to use a lotion type sun care product or do the aerosols work just as well?

MC: I love this question as some research has shown that the nanoparticles (very small particles) in aerosols and even some sun care products can be inhaled and absorbed into the skin, as well as can provide an uneven and light coverage. Therefore, aerosols may not be the safest choice. The best and safest active sun protection ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, “Non-nano” meaning large particles, which will not absorb into the skin in any way. 

Sport Suncare and Sunscreen

FM: When a sunscreen is branded as “sport” does that really mean that it stays on longer and through sweat or should it still be reapplied?  How often should we be reapplying?

MC: I believe “sport” sunscreen to mean it is great protection during activity, it will not sting your eyes, and is sweat/water resistant. All sunscreens do require reapplication. The standard time for reapplication is 80 minutes depending on the formula, although, at Trail Tribe Suncare, we have a lightweight every day face formula that we recommend reapplying every 40 minutes for best sun protection practices. Also many people do not apply enough sunscreen. A good rule of practice is to apply a shot glass size when applying to face and body. 

Sunburn Help

FM: If I didn’t follow any of these steps and got a bad sunburn what is the best way to treat it?

MC: Oh this happens to the best of us, including me in my past. I’m not a doctor so I would recommend first to check with a doctor or dermatologist but I would love to share what I have learned from my years of research in skin care. The best steps to take when treating a bad sunburn is first try to cool the skin, apply a cool compress or use aloe vera or a light moisturizer, replenish your fluids, take an over the counter pain reliever to help reduce inflammation and if there are any signs of blisters definitely see a doctor. 

The sun rising over a mountain range with a lake in front of it leading up to trees that have dropped their leaves on a fall day. Suncare and sunscreen are important even on cold fall days.
Even on cold fall days the Sun is there and Suncare and Sunscreen should be part of the routine

The Last Word On Suncare and Sunscreen

FM: Is there anything that I didn’t think of that the readers should know about protecting themselves?

MC: I think you covered so much to educate your readers on such an important topic. The only other factor I would mention to you that you may want to add is one of the latest areas in skin care/ protection where high quality suncare products have added ingredients that offer pollution protection from free radicals in the environment that are also known to cause skin damage.

I believe formulas will only continue to improve and for those wanting to live or are living an outdoor lifestyle these products will benefit their well-being greatly. I find it very exciting and I am so happy Trail Tribe Suncare is a part of that emerging technology and revolution. Thanks so much for all the great questions, Greg. Happy Trails to you! 

Wrapping up Suncare and Sunscreen Basics

Suncare and wearing sunscreen is such an important part of spending time outdoors. I want to thank Michelle Crews from Trail Tribe for the great insights and helping me to understand the sunscreen basics. Hopefully this will kick my bad habit of not wearing enough sunscreen on those cold winter hikes and I can put away the aloe and not worry about skin damage. If you are going to start a hiking program make sure that you have proper protection from the sun so you can have an enjoyable and safe time outdoors.

More from the Fatman

I have compiled a few other “Getting Started Tips” guides to help you on your journey. I have topics such as clothingweather, and shoes for the hike. For the pre-hike prep I have articles about snacksdiet, and exercises. These can all be found on the Getting Started Tips section of the website.

If you have any questions, comments or have a topic you would like me to cover you can email me at Or you can follow along at the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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