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Sunscreen, A Love Affair

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The Violet Files

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Sarah Brown on the best mineral SPFs you’ll want to wear on your face, on your body, and on the daily.

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model lounging by the pool

Photographed at the The Santa Monica Proper Hotel.

I am a bit of an SPF expert, and not initially by choice. If you’ve met me, I am probably the palest person you know (“translucent” pressed powder is my natural skin tone, for reference), and as follows, I have had to seriously, studiously, assiduously embrace sunscreen since way before it was cool.

I’ve had my share of burnt shoulders, rosy cheeks, and peeling noses (general childhood + sailing camp with zero adult supervision). I’ve even had an innocent-ish looking, freckle-like squamous cell carcinoma (that’s derm lingo for skin cancer) removed from my hairline—all documented in this piece for Vogue.

And when it comes to sunscreen, I’ve also tried everything. Which is handy, since it is now my actual job description to try everything so all of you can feel 1,000% confident that what we are serving up in our brand-new SPF Edit is genuinely the best stuff ever. And by best I mean the safest, the cleanest (for us, for the oceans), the lightest, the sheerest, the most blendable (because the best sunscreens are the ones you forget you are wearing and that work seamlessly with all skin tones), the most powerful (we only speak broad-spectrum high SPF around here), the most innovative (DNA repair? Help with hyperpigmentation? We got you.), the most apt to slip right into your regimen as another invisible layer (because we are here to curate your world class cosmetic wardrobe), and the chicest (because, duh, this is VIOLET GREY).

So: what’s the deal, what’s the news, and are there actually sunscreens out there a person would want to wear on their face, on their body, and on the daily? Read on!


First things first: “The sunscreen you should be using is the one you like to put on your face everyday. You really have to have almost a love affair with your sunscreen, because it is in a class by itself. It is different than our moisturizers or serums. “Sunscreen is an over-the-counter drug, the purpose of which is to prevent skin cancer.” These are the wise, wise words of Loretta Ciraldo, M.D. or Dr. Loretta, as she is known, is a Miami-based dermatologist, a VIOLET GREY Committee Member (of course), and was among the researchers in the Harvard photobiology labs back in the seventies (she was a med student) when they discovered that UVA rays were damaging to human skin—! So, Dr. Loretta is one of the true O.G.s of SPF O.G.s and high priestess of all sun damage-related information.

Salt and Stone SPF in the pool


For our new SPF Edit, we have focused squarely on bringing onto THE SHELVES the best 100% mineral blocks we could find. This was not easy: all mineral blocks—formulas which rely upon finely ground-up natural materials like zinc and titanium dioxide to “physically” reflect the sun from the surface of our skin, like a mirror coating—are not created equal. Some are chalky (the active ingredients are pulverized minerals) and gunky, and let us say “challenging” to rub into the skin. We found the silky, smooth, non-pore-clogging superstars that our VIOLET LAB Curation team—and our VIOLET GREY Committee of Industry Experts—wanted to wear, ourselves, every day, under makeup, at the beach, in the car (that’s where the most incidental UV damage happens, FYI), and while we’re just minding our own business sitting next to a window on endless Zoom calls all day every day (even the gray overcast ones).

We love mineral-based blocks for a few key reasons: “There’s less risk of dermatitis and photoallergies, when the sun mixes with a chemical blocker to create an allergy. And it typically has better coverage, and stays on longer,” explains New York dermatologist (and VG Committee member) Dan Belkin, M.D. “If you can find a formula you like, I’d lean toward mineral. I think they’re better blockers, for sure.”

They’re reef-safe, meaning they do not contain active ingredients that have been shown to be damaging to living coral and marine life.


Tinted formulas––like some of our favorites from Isdin and iS Clinical––can double as a tinted moisturizer or stand in for foundation, add a touch of all-over bronze if that’s your thing (just be careful of clothing transfer—test first, I say from experience!), and blend more seamlessly with darker skin tones. The benefits are not just cosmetic, either: “Tinted is the gold standard for people worried about hyperpigmentation,” explains New York derm Elyse Love, M.D. “Visible light can trigger hyperpigmentation, with or without UV exposure. Tinted sunscreens typically contain iron oxide, which has been shown to block visible light better than zinc and titanium. It’s not a UV filter, but it’s a supplement to a great UV filter.”


Yes, you have to reapply—especially after swimming, playing sports and sweating—but the most important moment is the initial application. If you’re not covered, you’re not… covered. The sun does not care that you had good intentions. If you really want to make sure that you have covered every inch of your body, do what I do: Apply your initial application of sunscreen while standing in front of a mirror naked. The bonus is that, if you have rubbed the stuff in sufficiently, you will also get far less (or perhaps none at all) smeared on the edges of your swimwear, my personal longstanding pet peeve. This practice takes a good five minutes, and I’ve come to find that it’s sort of a nice ritual. Self-care? Sort of!

Don’t forget the tops of feet, between toes, and behind ears! And your hands!!! For vanity’s sake, I re-apply to my hands, and décolleté, like a maniac.

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