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Summer Beauty Essentials: Must-Have Products for 2024

From lip balm to sunscreen, we’ve got you covered.

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photo collage of summer beauty essentials
Elena Lacey
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Recently, I took my 13-year-old great nephew Gavin on a trip to Miami for a long weekend. It was my 1000th time packing for the beach, but his first. I gave him a list, but neither his mother or I would be checking his suitcase to make sure he remembered everything — after all, he’s a teenager, and needs to learn on his own. Turns out I ended up learning from him.

Because while Gavin remembered to pack everything — including a sunhat — I forgot several things. So I’m making this list for myself as well as you, dear reader, so neither of us has to overpay for lotions or hats at the pricy hotel stores.

First off, let's talk about protection.

Tagging along to her daughter's appointment with dermatologist Dr. Robert Anolik, supermodel and actress Christie Brinkley asked if he could take a quick look at a tiny dot she could feel when she was applying her foundation. Anolik knew immediately that the "dot" was suspicious, biopsied it on the spot and diagnosed Brinkley's skin cancer.

"Most basal cell carcinoma, the most common and most treatable form of skin cancer, is discovered during a routine checkup," says Anolik, adding that it's most common in adults over 40. Thanks to his quick action, Brinkley vowed on her Instagram page that from now on she'll be "slathering on my SPF 30 (sunscreen), reapplying as needed, wearing long sleeves and a wide-brim hat."

Of course, you can also go for sunscreen with even higher SPF protection.

I have sensitive skin and finally found a sunscreen that works without causing breakouts — EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46. Banana Boat Protection + Vitamins Sunscreen for Face SPF 50 also comes in a two-ounce version, perfect for when you're packing to get through airport security. Neutrogena Purescreen + Mineral UV Tint Face Liquid Sunscreen comes in four shades to enhance your skin's natural tone while protecting you from sun damage.

Sunscreens designed for the face are usually formulated to feel lighter and are gentler on the skin, thus can be more expensive. Why waste them on your legs? For an all-body bargain, you can't beat Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Sunscreen Body Serum SPF 30. the beachy floral scent will bring back childhood memories. And if you're looking for a product that will give you a shimmery finish, Kopari Beauty Sunglaze Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen SPF 42 is for you.

Despite best intentions, whether you missed a spot (the top of your feet or your ears perhaps?) or you forgot to reapply your sunscreen after a swim, an after-sun lotion will soothe forgotten sun-ravaged spots. Vacation After Sun Gel features aloe — the gold standard of post-sun products. And unlike some stickier aloe vera gels, this has a watery texture that locks in moisture and minimizes peeling. Sun Bum After Sun Cool Down Lotion contains aloe, vitamin E and cocoa butter for moisturizing and has tea tree oil which boasts anti-inflammatory benefits.

Another go-to for hydration is Eucerin Advanced Hydration After Sun Lotion for Face and Body, enriched with antioxidants and other soothers for sun-stressed skin.

Next up for protection — hats and visors. I've never been a big fan of these toppers until I saw the Simplicity Women Roll Up Foldable Wide Brim Sun Visor Straw Hat. It's adjustable, comes in a choice of colors and it's packable, which is key for me! The Women's Blake Elegant Floppy Sun Hat UPF 50+ from Coolibar boasts 50 UPF sun protection. Sunday Afternoons Voyage hat also offers 50 UPF protection. It comes in opal and a pretty sky blue and it features a "Sunglass Lock" to keep those glasses in place on the top of the hat's brim. It also ties under the chin — something I never thought I needed until one windy day my hat flew off of my head and into the sea.

I wish they had sun-guard shirts when I was a child. There's no worrying about reapplying sunscreen when I'm wearing one and they cover my arms which, as I've gotten older, have gone all jiggly. (Sound familiar?)

I'm a sucker for stripes so I ordered the blue and white striped version of Land's End Women's Crew Neck Long Sleeve Rash Guard UPF 50 Swim Tee, which is also available in a whole range of colors and patterns. (I also love the Land's End style that zips up and comes with a hoodie.)

The Women's SunSmart UPF 50+ Sn Shirt, Quarter-Zip from L.L. Bean comes in a slightly roomier cut which makes it a good choice to wear as an outer layer on cooler days.

But be warned: special clothing and hats add protection but they don't replace sunscreen.

Lip balms you say? Burt's Bees SPF 15 All-Weather Moisturizing Lip Balm and Coppertone SPORT Sunscreen Lip Balm Broad Spectrum SPF 50 both protect lips from chapping and against the sun. Summer Friday's Lip Butter Balm is costlier but it feels so creamy and comes in eight sweet, sheer colors like Sweet Mint, Birthday Cake and Pink Sugar.

Big, oversized sunglasses are in vogue again, a plus because you want as much protection for your eyes as you can get. Designer sunnies aren’t necessarily better than drugstore bargains — look for labels that say 100 percent UV protection or UV absorption up to 400 nanometers. So while Warby Parker Latrell Sunglasses and Ray-Ban Aviators are both classic, costly choices, you can get pizazz for a better price by getting the right pair at Walgreens or TJ Maxx.

Also affordable with a wow factor are Nanette Lepore Women's NN106 Retro UV400 Protection Cat Eye Fashion Sunglasses. The cat-eye style was popularized by Marilyn Monroe as well as Audrey Hepburn and was worn by AARP Founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, which is why cat-eye glasses are a part of The Ethel's logo.

Finally, here are some durable beach bags to haul all of your summer essentials. L.L. Bean’s Boat and Tote is a heavyweight canvas bag that can hold up to 500 pounds. So, even if you’re carrying five jugs of water and reading War and Peace in hardcover, this stylish workhorse can handle it. The family-picnic-sized waterproof Shylero Beach Bag and Pool Bag features two outside pockets and a built-in key holder.

And if, like my French relatives, you carry everything but the kitchen sink to the beach, you’ll want Baggu’s Travel Cloud Bag. Not your cheapest choice, though is worth a splurge for many years of beach retreats to come — or just as a carry-on weekend item. Made of heavy-weight recycled nylon with a shoulder strap, it comes in five different patterns and colors, including “seaweed,” which seems particularly appropriate for a seaside vacation.

Are you good about applying sunscreen? Have you ever had skin cancer? Let us know in the comments below.


Photo illustration: Elena Lacey (Courtesy: Ulta (3), Coppertone, Warby Parker, Sunday Afternoons; Getty Images (3))

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