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TODAY contributor
updated 7/14/2008 1:51:14 PM ET 2008-07-14T17:51:14

Life as a redhead comes with a host of challenges. You are blindly compared to any carrot-topped actor who has graced the big or small screen in the last century (Lucile Ball, Molly Ringwald, Lauren Ambrose — I’ve been every one). The mailman, your boss, your friends and even your enemies all believe that it is their inalienable right to christen you “Red.” And contrary to the message of “Pretty in Pink,” John Hughes’ 1986 cinematic masterpiece, not every auburn-haired woman can rock a rose (or salmon or coral) ensemble. But I will take the liberty to speak for all of my redheaded brothers and sisters when I say that the most pressing obstacle for those blessed (cursed) with ruby tresses is the way in which our milky-white skin reacts to the heat of the sun.

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I sunburned my ankles into puffy red bumps on a family vacation in Mexico (couldn’t wear shoes for a week). I charred the backs of my thighs while napping on the beach in Malibu (couldn’t sit down for three days). And my lips were broiled while lounging on a boat near Greece. (Who knew that lips could burn? They can. And I couldn’t speak for 24 hours.) I have never walked away from the beach, the pool or a backyard barbecue without sizzling some part of my body. Sure, I use sunscreen, but inevitably I neglect to apply it thoroughly (earlobes? wrists? the curve where the arm meets the chest?) or I forget to reapply after swimming or sweating. Often, I fantasize about being dipped in a vat of SPF 60 so I’d know for sure that I have been completely coated.

By now I’ve stopped envying those with olive skin that browns evenly when kissed by the sun and have turned my attention to wide-brimmed hats that keep the rays off my face and sunscreen that is made as naturally as possible. In a particularly sunny situation I can go through a tube a day, so it better be made with ingredients that are safe for my body and the Earth (remember that much of the sunscreen we wear ends up in the ocean, where it can affect plant and animal life).

There are two common ways to protect the skin from the sun: using chemicals that are absorbed into the skin and reflect damaging rays or with mineral agents that form a barrier between the sun and the skin. When I began experimenting with these mineral blocks several years ago I found them to be thick, chalky and impossible to rub in — they made me even paler. Today, many chemical-free cosmetic brands have mastered the formula, creating a smooth block that is easy to apply and leaves no white streaks. Here are some of my favorites:

Aubrey Organics’ SPF 25 titanium dioxide-based (a mineral that deflects the sun’s burning rays from your skin) sunscreen is smooth and easy to apply — thanks to shea butter and jojoba oil. This block can go the long haul, making it through swimming, exercise and excessive perspiring.

Kiss My Face non-chemical sunscreen in SPF 18 takes a bit of elbow grease to rub in, but the results are worth the effort. The titanium dioxide-based block is free from synthetic colors and fragrance and is 100 percent biodegradable.

To protect babies and kids, check out California Baby’s everyday/year-round sun block stick in 30+ (made from titanium dioxide). The natural lemongrass scent makes this an ideal sunscreen touch-up tool for little ones and their parents.

Laveras sun spray SPF 30 is an ideal option for active — and sensitive — families. The light, waterproof spray is made of titanium dioxide and is safe for those with skin irritations like dermatitis and eczema.

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.

Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.

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