Sunscreen is simple in theory and brain-meltingly nuanced in reality. In theory, it should be a substance that you wear to thwart the sun. In reality, it comes in multiple forms (physical or chemical); it can contain allergens and nanoparticles; it can be “reef-safe” or not; it can be tinted or not; “natural” or not; moisturizing or not; scented or not; water-resistant or not; and, importantly, when you wear it on your face it can result in a nest of pimples or not.
For everyday wear, I use Shade exclusively. It’s the only physical sunscreen that doesn’t enrage my sensitive skin. If I’m going to be active in the sun for hours at a time, however, I don’t even bother with sunscreen on my lower half. There’s too much surface area to cover, and anything I apply sweats off in ten minutes. For my legs, it’s SPF leggings or go home.
Until last year I didn’t know that SPF leggings were a thing. But they are! And among people who use them, they are a fetish object along the lines of an Instant Pot or noise-canceling headphones — a marvelous tool that will materially improve your life if you sit within the target demo.
An SPF legging — or, really a UPF legging, which is SPF for clothing — is what I wear when I’ll be surfing or swimming for more than two hours. My favorite company is Olas, which has a Patagonia-esque eco thesis. Its leggings are made of a silky Italian-made recycled textile made from old plastic water bottles. The company is obsessive about minimal packaging, which is something I watch sharply when it comes to any brand that claims to be ecoconscious. (What’s the point of buying carbon offsets if your product ships in eight layers of plastic and cardboard?)
But enough about virtue. The rewards of an SPF legging are experiential: They feel good in the water and look cute on land. The wide waistband means you can pull them up to keep your goods tucked in or scrunch them low on your hips. They are soft and machine washable. They dry in two seconds. I wear these surfing, but also whenever I leave the house in summer and don’t want to put on normal pants. Unlike many leggings, they do not hug the female anatomy indecently, so they are perfect for public-facing activities.
There are a handful of good brands out there, but Olas is my preference for practical purposes (price) and design reasons (they are sewn so you don’t have to wear underwear with them). Plus, the company is a one-woman show founded by a veteran of sustainable design, which makes me even happier to stock up on my favorite galaxy legging.
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