Remember those bad after-school specials about safe sex, starring the lame guy who refused to wear a condom because it didn't "feel good?" He was an idiot.
Similarly foolish: The girl who refuses to practice safe sun because she claims high-powered sunscreen feels uncomfortable on her skin.
The fact is, if you suffer from irritation -- characterized by redness, dryness, itching, scaling, or swelling -- you're wearing the wrong one. It has nothing to do with a high SPF.
"It's very uncommon for sunscreen -- no matter how high the SPF - to irritate the skin," says Heidi Waldorf, an Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai in Manhattan. "Any irritation is most likely caused by the base of the product, not from the active sunscreen ingredients."
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly which base ingredients (or combination of base ingredients) might bother your skin, so Waldorf suggests giving yourself a patch test to see if a sunscreen agrees with you. Apply it on your upper inner arm for three days in a row. If you have a negative reaction, try another product. If not, you're cool.
If you have had problems with sunscreen in the past, Waldorf suggests using a fragrance-free sunscreen labeled for children or those with sensitive skin.
"They usually have physical (not chemical) sunscreen ingredients, and there are few ingredients in the base that may cause irritation."
Still, for those who've had negative experiences with a strong sunscreen before, I urge you to keep two things in mind as you dip your toes back into the waters of SPF 30 and beyond.
One: Though you may be tempted to skip the strong sunscreen by simply wearing makeup infused with SPF, please don't.
"Think of makeup as extra protection, not primary protection," says Waldorf.
And two: While it's perfectly safe to layer SPF-enriched products over one another (it won't cause irritation), it's silly to think that you can layer your makeup with SPF 15 over your moisturizer with SPF 15 for a grand total of SPF 30. Though it sounds clever, it doesn't actually work like that. Sorry.