When I was 18, I went to Spain for my first foreign holiday without adult supervision. I went with five girl-friends. Before our holiday, we set up a production line making bikinis. We were all, more or less, the same size then so one size sort-of fitted all. We made a pattern consisting of four triangles: two for the top half, two for the bottom.
One person cut, one person sewed a thick seam, through which another threaded cord with which to tie up the bottoms, or hold up the tops. We had all manner of lovely fabrics, but it was the gingham I remember the most.
We were tremendously pleased with ourselves, until we got to the beach and realised that swimwear is not made out of cotton for a very good reason. It sags. After one friend went into the sea and came out carrying a litre of water in her pants, we relegated the home-made bikinis to sun-worshipping duties only.
Because I was a right little miss I had the entire Lancome suncare collection with me. This was in part because I adored Isabella Rossellini, who was then the face of Lancome. But also I liked a bit of luxe and, importantly, I had been working every weekend since I was fourteen; so my pocket money situation was fairly buoyant. I have so many happy memories of that holiday, but the smell of the Lancome sun oil (in particular) stays with me.
(I need to pause here whilst I have a little reminisce.)
Whilst I adore Natura Bissé and Sisley and their sun products are excellent (and expensive), the Lancome sun oil factor 6 is still what I reach for if I'm just going to be out in the sun for half an hour or so. I love an oil. Obviously if you are in the sun all day then you need something a little more robust and remember to re-apply often. You don't really need me to tell you that (note: this is why I avoid really high protection creams cos I think they give you a false sense of security).
Sun protection basically comes in two types: chemical or physical. The easier to put on ones tend to be chemical sunscreens. That is, they contain chemical ingredients (usually one or more of these: benzophenone-3, homosalate, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC), octyl-methoxycinnamate, octyl-dimethyl-PABA, isotridecyl salicylate, octyl salicylate and octocrylene) that protect against the sun. There is some controversy around these: some studies have shown some of these ingredients to be oestrogenic or to double the uterine growth rates in rats before puberty. Some research also links chemical sunscreen with an increase in skin damage/cancer as the chemicals absorb the UV rays and keep them close to the skin.
Physical sunscreens contain either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which reflect the sun's rays. These are greasier to put on and can look 'white'. The more 'child friendly versions are usually physical sunscreens although (of course) there is also some controversy over the use of nanotechnology both in physical and chemical sunscreens. But look, this isn't a science blog, I'm not a trained scientist (I am a trained shopper however) so if this concerns you and you want to read more, I'm sure you know what to do.
Next: mozzie repellent.