Suncare for the Show Ring

Suncare for the Show Ring

It’s one of the most important steps every rider should take before getting in the saddle, yet only 18% of surveyed riders say they do it every day. Picking feet? Checking your girth? Spritzing fly spray? Nope, it’s applying sunscreen – something our parents would diligently badger us about as children but that many of us fail to do as adults. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy, concerned greasy formulas will flare up our acne, or think we’re adequately protected with technical sun shirts and wide brim helmets....but with skin cancer rates on the rise, it’s something we all need to make time for.

In this post we’ll discuss the importance of suncare from a rider’s perspective – why you should care, the science behind sunscreens and finally, some tips on how to incorporate it into your daily routine at the farm or at a show. Being mindful when it comes to suncare is not as daunting of a task as it may initially seem. Making small changes to your daily riding routine- like wearing long sleeve shirts, donning a sun visor and most importantly of all, applying sunscreen- will make a huge difference when it comes down to limiting your sun exposure. 

Equestrian Connection

From schooling to show ring, practicing safe sun is a must for all riders. We protect our horses noses from summer sunburns, so why not ourselves too?

In her own words, HC Ambassador and curator of the Modern Equestrian Instagram account Isabelle walks us through how she practices safe sun while spending long days in the saddle: 

"For a few years now I’ve been battling a skin condition called melasma. It’s a form of hormonal hyper-pigmentation that is especially sensitive to sun exposure. Even a little bit of sun can cause spots on my face to darken drastically. I grew up by the beach so I’m no stranger to sunscreen and the importance of wearing a high SPF and reapplying throughout the day, but when I developed melasma was when I made it a priority to always have on a hat or visor for extra protection.

Riding in California means almost year-round sun so I was instantly drawn to the Equi-Visor. Not only does it shade my face, but it helps keep me cooler on those especially hot days. When I’m not in a helmet, I immediately put on a hat. My favorites are my Shop Hunt Club baseball cap (obviously) and the San Diego Hat Company Sun Visor which comes in a tons of colors and has a Velcro back so I can adjust it for my tiny head.

Since several hours can go by fairly quickly at the barn, I keep sunscreen in my tack locker so I can reapply. I buy two-packs of sport sunscreen from Target (50 SPF) to use on my arms, neck, and ears, and a La-Roche Posay 50 SPF for my face. My face sweats so it’s important to have something that won’t get in my eyes. I’ve had to stop mid-ride too many times to cry out sunscreen that wasn’t sweat-friendly. Some people forget that your hands are also at risk for sunburn so I always wear gloves, and if I’m just working around the barn I make sure to spray them when I spray my arms. It’s never a bad thing to be heavy-handed when it comes to application, people often under-use products but with sunscreen it’s totally ok to slather up."

While visors, hats and vented sun shirts are all great additions to your collection of sun protection gear, sunscreen is one key component you can’t overlook. Isabelle highlights a few important points that are critical for riders to keep in mind when choosing a sunscreen that’s right for them. 1) Reapply often, especially after you sweat at the barn. 2) You (really) should have two sunscreens – one for your body and one for your face. 3) Choose a sunscreen that’s appropriate for your activity level and skin sensitivity. Nobody likes stinging sunscreen in their eyes mid-ride. 

Myth Busting

Sun shirts are a great addition to your wardrobe, but aren't they a little pricey? No way! The Cute to Boot Blog breaks down their favorites for riders on a budget: 

That’s where we come in. We’ve done a little digging and have rounded up all the critical info you need to know before settling on a sunscreen brand that’s right for you. Even if you’re happy with your current product choice, summertime is a great time to educate yourself on the science behind the sunblock. If you’ve been using the same Coppertone your parents slathered on you as a wee nugget popping around on your pony, it might be time to take a moment and reevaluate your sun protection situation. 


Sunscreen Science

When asked to choose between chemical and physical sunscreen, nearly 70% of surveyed riders responded with “There’s a difference?”. Spoiler alert: yes, there’s a very big difference.

Before we delve into which sunscreens are best suited for riders, let's demystify some facts that will help you understand the ingredients in your sunscreen, what they do, and how to choose the combination of ingredients that meet your skincare needs. Recent developments in UV filter technology mean that it’s now possible to both wear sunscreen on the daily AND cater to your skin’s individual needs to avoid the breakouts, greasiness and caked-on feelings that are traditionally associated with topical sun protection. Get ready for our super-condensed, crash course in physical and chemical sunscreen filters - you'll be a suncare expert before you know it. 


Physical Suncreen



Often called “sunblock” or "mineral" sunscreens, these products work by doing just that - reflecting and scattering harmful UV rays from skin’s surface. Physical sunscreens always contain inorganic mineral ingredients, namely titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which sit on top of skin and form a protective and reflective barrier. The mineral ingredients in physical sunscreen offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays, making them naturally broad spectrum. Because these ingredients sit on top of skin they are particularly susceptible to being washed, rubbed, or sweated of;  meaning that physical sunscreens should always be reapplied regularly (at least every two hours). On the plus side, both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are stable ingredients and do not require extra chemicals in their formulations to work properly like chemical sunscreens do. This means that physical sunscreens are not only gentler on sensitive, acne prone skin, but are less likely to sting your eyes during a particularly intense jumping lesson (ouch!). Most sunscreens with the term “mineral” in the title contain exclusively physical UV filters or a mix of physical and chemical. 

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens work a more complex way than simply reflecting the sun’s harmful rays. Chemical sunscreens contain organic compounds which absorb UV rays, triggering a chemical reaction that converts them into heat that is dispersed and released from the skin. While chemical sunscreens do need to be applied ahead of sun exposure (up to 20 minutes in advance so they can penetrate the skin fully), they are more resistant to water and sweat. Chemical sunscreens still need to be reapplied regularly, however, since the UV filters they contain break down faster in direct sunlight compared to those found in physical sunscreens. Due to the complex nature of the reactions they perform to dissipate UV rays, chemical sunscreens usually contain extra stabilizing ingredients which can make them ill-suited for acne sufferers or individuals with sensitive skin. Chemical sunscreens do absorb completely into the skin, making them ideal for applying under makeup and for individuals with darker skin tones who wish to avoid the white cast that physical sunscreens can impart. 

Most in-market sunscreens contain both physical and chemical UV filters so you get a nice mix of the benefits of both, but if you have special skincare needs you should definitely be more discerning about the ingredients in the suncare products you use. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the active ingredients to look out for in physical sunscreens, while oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone are key components of most chemical sunscreens. Bottom line is, always know what the ingredients are in the sunscreen you’re using, and if you’re concerned about how they’ll affect your skin, always consult your dermatologist!

Myth Busting 

The higher the SPF the better, right? Not necessarily. Over SPF 50, additional UVB/UVA protection is marginal. Scientists say it's better to reapply more often or cover up than reach for that SPF 100. 

Ok, now that we’ve thoroughly established that sunscreen is a MUST HAVE and we’re educated on exactly what goes into the lotion we slather on all summer long, let’s talk about how to work it into our daily routine at home and at the barn. It’s easy to remember to apply sunscreen as part of your morning skincare routine, but how do you handle reapplying at least every 2 hours (or more frequently if you’re in direct sunlight)? The barn is a pretty dirty place. How do you make sure your hands and face are dirt free before reapplying your sunscreen? Worry not, we’ve got a few suggestions that can make your life easier: 

  1. If your arenas are particularly dusty, it might be a good idea to give yourself a quick cleansing spritz and wipe off before reapplying your sunscreen if you’re not wearing makeup. Try Glossier’s Refreshing Face Mist or the more budget friendly option, Evian’s Mineral Water Spray. Pat dry with a clean towel or air dry and reapply your sunscreen of choice – voila! No more mixing dirt and sweat with fresh sunscreen when you reapply while at the barn.
  2. Dirty hands with nowhere to wash them? We’ve got you covered there too. COOLA's eco-friendly, mineral sunscreen comes in a stick form, which is great if you’re stuck at the ring with only porta-potties in sight. Swipe it on a clean face and you’re ready to go. 
  3. Alternatively, if you like wearing makeup to the barn and “washing” your face doesn’t seem attractive in the middle of the day, skincare specialist Renee Rouleau suggests mixing an SPF powder along with your favorite makeup powder to achieve a smooth, flawless glow with additional sun protection anytime, anywhere. 
  4. Trying to avoid a farmer’s tan and need to reapply sunscreen to your arms? COOLA and SunBum make great “dry touch” spray sunscreens that don’t leave you greasy or sticky, and can be applied without rubbing it in in a pinch (although it’s definitely recommended to do so if you can). Spray on, rub down, and saddle up. COOLA even makes an unscented version, so you won't run around the farm smelling like a giant coconut. 

Myth Busting

Baseball caps are enough to keep you protected from the sun, right? Not necessarily. Opt for something with 360º  protection, like the Ringside Sun Visor. 

Finally, let’s talk products. We’ve made a few recommendations already, and this is by no means a comprehensive guide to all sunscreens under the sun (we rely on the skincare experts at Into the Gloss for that), but we have had the pleasure of testing out some great options that work just as hard as riders do.

After some rigorous testing and research, we have fallen absolutely in love with COOLA's line of suncare products. They contain as many organic ingredients as humanly possible, are never tested on animals, and come in both chemical and physical varieties. As mentioned earlier, their Mineral Sport Sunscreen Stick is our go-to for reapplying on the go, and their line of matte sunscreens are just what the doctor ordered for avoiding that greasy feeling we all come to expect from sunscreen products. They even make it easy to work SPF protection into your everyday routine with makeup primers, setting sprays, and tinted BB creams with up to SPF 30 protection. To top it all off, every single one of their products smells absolutely incredible (particularly their SPF 50 White Tea Sport Moisturizer). If you're not a fan of that familiar coconut and banana scent, but do enjoy avoiding sunburns and being eco-friendly, COOLA is our top choice for show day sun protection. 

If you're looking to treat yourself and splurge on some special suncare, we have a few recommendations there as well. Pamper yourself (and especially your face) with these super luxe options that leave your skin feeling velvety soft and moisturized to boot. 

Don't forget your after-sun care! Moisturize daily for a multitude of reasons, but especially after long days in the hot sun at horse shows, out on a trail ride, or just hand grazing at home. COOLA's ER Fresh Relief Face Serum is a  protective, anti-inflammatory moisturizer that cools and nourishes stressed and sun-damaged skin while shielding it from environmental exposure. Cools instantly, has a lightweight feel, and is actually good for your skin - what's not to love?


Thanks for sticking it out to the bitter end! Have any burning (get it? get it?) questions about skincare and sunscreen that you just can't seem to get answers to? Drop us a line through the contact form or at Some of our favorite resources (and sources for this post) are included below. If you don't already slather on the sunscreen before every ride, hopefully this post has inspired you to get out there, find the right product for you, and practice safe sun! Your future's too bright not to wear sunscreen.

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