The 3-Second Downloads That Will Save You from a Nasty Sunburn

Reader’s Digest Article

Tanning isn’t the smartest thing you can do for your skin, but burning is far worse. Now there are smartphone apps that can help you enjoy the sun while minimizing the inevitable damage to your skin.
By Lauren Cahn

Readers DigestAh, that golden glow of a suntan. It makes us look and feel more attractive, but suntanning comes at a hefty price: irreversible damage to your skin. Even if you manage to avoid burning, you’re still in for premature wrinkling, sagging, and blotching, and you’re significantly raising your risk of skin cancer, including the deadly kind, melanoma. If only there were a hack of sorts for sunbathing—some way to get that beautiful bronzed look without the problems associated with sun exposure.

Well there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that if you’ve got a smartphone, you can download any number of apps that purport to make a science out of how long and under which circumstances you can bask safely in the sun while minimizing the damage to your skin. We’ll get to them just as soon as we let you in on the bad news, which is that we polled dermatologists from all over the country, and they agreed unanimously: There’s simply no such thing as a safe suntan. We may perceive it as attractive, but a suntan is nothing more than “your body’s defense system against the sun, and more specifically, the UV radiation that the sun emits,” according to Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Medical Director of Minnesota’s Crutchfield Dermatology.

UV radiation, commonly known as “UV rays,” represent about 10 percent of the total light emitted from the sun, according to Fraye L. Frey, MD, a board certified dermatologist located in West Nyack, New York, and can be further broken down as follows:

UVC: These rays gets filtered out by the earth’s ozone layer (and are therefore not of immediate concern)
UVB: These rays cause sunburns but are also a natural source of vitamin D, which is crucial to good health (although Dr. Crutchfield points out that Vitamin D can be sourced naturally from tuna, salmon, eggs, cheese, D-fortified foods, and D vitamin supplements)
UVA: These rays penetrate the skin deeply, can fracture DNA, and are associated with premature skin aging, dark patches, wrinkles and skin cancer

“The intensity of UV light can be measured with a variety of instruments that are commercially available,” says Dr. Frey. Specifically, what is measured is the amount of UV radiation in any given locale at any given time, according to Jerome Potozkin, MD, a board certified dermatologist in Danville, California. That measurement is placed on an international index scale known as UVI, and forms the basis for the smartphone apps that purport to help you strategize your sunbathing. “The scale goes from 0 to 10, with the high number meaning the greater risk of sunburn from UV exposure,” adds Carolyn M. Kassabian, MD, a board licensed dermatologist with the Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California. “When the UVI is 6, it’s twice as easy to burn than if the UVI were 3.”

So what does that mean in terms of how long you can stay in the sun on any given day and with what level of protection? These smartphone apps were designed to crunch the numbers for you:

iTanSmart uses your phone’s GPS to determine your location, space satellites to measure the UVI in your location, and information that you input about yourself and your environment to tell you exactly how long you can be in the sun without burning. Except for the GPS and the space satellites, all of the information is self-reported, so you’ll need to be honest when inputting your eye color, hair color, tendency to burn, blister, tan, or freckle. You’ll also need to describe where you are (beach? mountain? city?) admit your goal (avoid sunburn versus get a savage tan). If you’re looking to use iTanSmart to develop a tan, you’ll have to pay an extra fee of $1.99, and whether it’s worth it will depend upon many factors, not the least of which is whether you’re prepared to accept the damage you’re doing to your skin in the process (which iTanSmart is fully transparent about reminding you).
SunZapp provides the same functions as iTanSmart but also assesses the sun protection you are getting from the clothes you tell the app you’re wearing. The results it spits out after you answer all its questions and does its UVI reading are easy to parse. In addition, even without all the warnings that iTanSmart provides, SunZapp’s vibe seems to lean more toward protecting your skin from the sun and away from getting tan.
My Tan Expert does essentially what iTanSmart and Sunzapp do, but slightly more complicated. MyTanExpert not only asks the usual battery of questions about your skin, hair, and eyes, but it also asks you to take a photo of your skin beside a white napkin. You provide the white napkin, and getting your skin and the napkin to fit into their respective outlines while taking the photo yourself, one-handed, is no easy task. Once you complete it, however, it’s difficult to understand what the recommendations mean. For example, it tells me, a very pale, freckly, redheaded, blue-eyed person that my skin can take “another 90 percent of the daily dose of ultraviolet radiation.” What?

It seems, however, that with a minimal understanding of UV rays, the following apps, which do little more than provide a UVI reading and a short and simple sun-protection recommendation, could also help you plan a sun-safe strategy every day:

UV Meter tells you the UVI at your current location and offers practical recommendations for sun protection (including not only sunscreen but also protective clothing) as well predictions on how long it will take before you get sunburned.
The EPA’s SunWise UV Index also tells you the UVI at your current location, offers practical recommendations for sun protection (including not only sunscreen but also protective clothing), including the recommendation to “seek shade.” Plus, the app was designed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which is an excellent source of hard-hitting information about the current state of the ozone layer, which may have an impact on the way our skin is affected by UVCs.
Ultraviolet UV Index very simply and quite beautifully shows the current UVI for your locale as well as any other location in the world. In addition, it provides simple, easy-to-understand instructions on how to expose yourself to that day’s rays as safely as possible.
QSun has functions similar to those described for these other apps, but it adds further value by making sunscreen recommendations, including using your own weight and height to tell you exactly how much sunscreen to apply in order to maximize the sunscreen’s effectiveness.

Regardless of the UVI, Dr. Kassabian tells her patients to apply sunscreen with an SPF of between 30 and 50 every single day. “This gets them in the habit of applying regularly, and they are less likely to forget and consequently, less likely to burn.” She also recommends practicing sun avoidance measures, such as wearing a hat and a long-sleeved shirt, and seeking shade whenever possible. These are the sunscreens dermatologists use on themselves.

Dr. Crutchfield adds that your SPF of 30 or higher should provide not only UVB protection, but also broad spectrum protection so that it blocks the UVA rays as well. “Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure,” he advises, “and reapply every one to two hours, and more often if perspiring or swimming.”

You can still sport a bronzed look this summer if you want—if you get it from a bottle. As Dr. Potozkin says, “The only safe tan is one involving the application of self-tanner.”

Dr. Crutchfield on Weather Channel Discussing Dangers of Tanning

The Weather Channel

The weather is getting warmer and another Jersey Shore spinoff show is in the works. This can only mean one thing: It’s time to work on your tan.

Of course, if you’re among the one million Americans who frequent tanning salons each day, the winter probably didn’t stop you from reaching that ideal level of tan. Continue reading Dr. Crutchfield on Weather Channel Discussing Dangers of Tanning

Children’s Book About Sun Protection

little charles hits a home run bookDr. Charles Crutchfield III, M.D. of Minnesota has co-authored the children’s book “Little Charles Hits a Home Run!” with Mary Mills Barrow.

Now available on Amazon.

Little League season has started and Charles is determined to keep his friends from getting sunburned. When his dad tells him that sun rays can harm skin of all types, Charles finds ways to use the letters in the acronym SunAWARE to explain why sun protection is important.

Every year, millions of children are overexposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Little Charles Hits a Home Run! provides five simple action steps to help children prevent skin cancer.

See Little Charles Hits a Home Run on Amazon


Tips on Treating Sunburn

Star TribuneThe dog days of summer are here, but don’t let that keep you from looking your best. With its hot, sticky days and buggy, sticky nights, August presents a host of beauty challenges — from frizzy hair to shiny skin. Before you go and do something crazy — like wish for winter — try these creative solutions for keeping your cool.


Instead of covering yourself with sticky, chemical-laden bug spray, dab on Intelligent Nutrients Certified Organic Bug Repellent. The DEET- and pesticide-free blend of certified organic essential oils naturally deters insects (trust me, it works), but smells more like a spicy-sweet perfume than a citronella candle. $26 at

Soothe a sunburn

Even with proper prevention (you’re wearing at least an SPF 30 daily and reapplying it every hour, right?), sunburns happen. To soothe the sting, Dr. Charles E. Crutchfield III of Crutchfield Dermatology in Eagan recommends an oldie but goodie: “Aloe vera gel every three to four hours. I like to keep it in the fridge,” he said.

To help with inflammation, he also suggests applying hydrocortisone cream to sunburned skin every six hours and taking two aspirin every eight hours for up to three days.


Hair needs sun protection, too. Especially if it’s colored or highlighted in blond, which tends to turn brassy when exposed to the elements. For the ultimate defense, slip on a chic headscarf and spritz on a UV defense spray before heading outside. To prevent discoloration from chlorine, coat hair in conditioner before diving in. Try: Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil, $26 at Aveda salons and


Start by putting down the blow drier. “Too much heat styling leads to flyaways,” says Margaret Ayache, master stylist and creative director at Bespoke Hair Artisans in Edina. Instead, Ayache suggests applying a leave-in conditioner or light serum such as Kerastase Serum Oleo Relax, which helps control frizz without weighing down tresses. Got curls? Leave them alone. “Let hair air-dry without touching it.” Result: More defined curls, less frizz.

Make a mask

Before your next cocktail party, whip up a big batch of this Firming Ice Cube Mask from celeb skin care guru Ole Henriksen:

1. Blend equal parts fresh lemon juice, brewed rose hip tea, brewed mint tea and vodka. The exfoliating enzymes in the lemon juice, circulation-enhancing ice and pore-tightening properties of the vodka create a natural temporary Botox-like effect.

2. Pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and freeze.

3. Place a cube in a thin cotton handkerchief or towel and glide across face and throat for at least 2 minutes.

4. Allow mask to soak in, then follow with your regular skin care regimen. May be applied three to four times a week.


There’s a direct correlation between dew point and too-dewy looking skin. Combat unwanted shine with a mattefying primer that reduces oil, makes pores appear smaller and creates a smooth, flawless canvas for makeup. Try: Clinique Pore Refining Solutions Instant Perfector, $18 at department stores. Then, tuck blotting papers in your tote for midday touch-ups. Try: Sonia Kashuk Blotting Papers, $7 at Target.


Don’t let the sun have its way with your mani-pedi. Prevent premature peeling and discoloration by adding a top coat designed to block UV rays. Extending sunscreen to your nails and cuticles will also keep them looking shiny and new. Try: Essie Non-Yellowing Topcoat Sun Block, $8 at Ulta stores and


Keep locks from going greasy and limp with a shot of dry shampoo. Like an amped-up version of the old baby powder trick, these polymer-infused styling aids absorb oil while adding lift and volume. Spritz at the roots to make your blowout last longer or use to refresh day-old ‘dos. Try: Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray, $39 at Phresh SalonSpa in St. Paul.


You don’t have to be a synchronized swimmer to take advantage of the newest stay-put products. Avon’s new ExtraLasting makeup collection contains pigments that prevent water, sweat and humidity from causing your foundation, eyeliner or mascara from running down your face. From $6 at


First there was water. Then there was Gatorade. Now there’s coconut water. The latest way to hydrate isn’t new. Coconut water has been around for thousands of years, but it’s recently gone glam thanks to a few celebrity fans. One serving of the unsweetened, all-natural beverage contains five essential electrolytes and more potassium than a banana. Try: Zico Pure Coconut Water, from $2 at Trader Joe’s and

Minneapolis-based writer Elizabeth Dehn is the founder of