Of all of the things that age our skin, the most damaging and easiest to prevent is excessive sun exposure. It takes years for cumulative sun damage to appear, so people do not realize that damage that has been done until it is often very late. Fortunately no matter what your age, your body is able to repair some of the damage that has been done and even fight off early skin cancers if you limit your sun exposure.
Contrary to popular belief, a tan from the sun or tanning bed is not healthy. I do agree that a tan may look good, but we now have many safe alternatives to achieving the look of a tan. Today's spray-on or self-applied tanning creams do a very nice job of providing that "golden glow" without giving the orange appearance of agents used in the past.
Sunscreens are chemicals used to absorb or reflect the Sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. They are 3rd in the line of defense against the sun.
Step 1 is to avoid the sun especially during the peak hours of 10 am through 4 pm.
Step 2 is to use a physical cover-up such as long sleeve clothing, long pants, and wide-brimmed hats to block the harmful rays.
Step 3 is sunscreen on areas that are exposed and possibly even under covered areas if excessive exposure is anticipated.
The sunscreen must contain Parsol (Avobenzone) or Zinc Oxide.
Step 4 is to reapply every 1-2 hours. Even waterproof sunscreens do not stay on all day!
By and large the sunscreens in makeup foundation are not applied adequately to provide necessary protection. It is better to use a moisturizer with sunscreen or a stand alone sunscreen product. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed many products to be advertised in a somewhat misleading fashion. Many sunscreens that are labeled "broad-spectrum" or "full-spectrum" do not necessarily block all of the UV light.
So what do you look for in a good sunscreen? The goal is to block most of the ultraviolet (UV) light that reaches your skin. UV light that reaches the earth's surface comes in 2 forms. Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) light. It's easy to remember that "A" ages and B "burns." For example, when you spend the day at the beach then come inside and notice your skin is red, it's from the UVB (burning) rays. UVB also causes much of the skin cancer we see in our practice. However, when you are outside you are also getting UVA rays that penetrate deeply into the skin destroying collagen and creating wrinkles that age the skin prematurely.
The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) on a sunscreen is only used to measure its UVB blocking capacity and tells you nothing about UVA protection. The SPF is a number from 2 to 60 or higher. This number is based on a fraction. For example, SPF 2 will allow ½, or 50%, of the UVB light through to your skin. Similarly SPF 15 will let 1/15, or 6.6%, of the UVB light through, and SPF 30 will allow 1/30, or 3.3%, of the light to harm your skin. So what does this mean for me? In my opinion, SPF 15 is sufficient for everyday wear such as driving to work, running errands, etc. However, I recommend SPF 30 or higher if you are going to be exposed to excessive amounts of UV light at the beach, lake, gardening, etc. Also remember, you should always reapply at least every 2 hours especially if you are sweating or in the water.
As a member of the American Academy of Dermatology's Environment Committee, I worked with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop a similar system for UVA blocking capacity. For now, we only have 2 ingredients in sunscreens that adequately block most of the UVA light. One is Parsol 1789 (Avobenzone) and the other is zinc oxide. Of the 2, zinc oxide is the best. Newer formulations of zinc oxide are available that are not the thick, white paste you remember from lifeguard days. They are marketed as "transparent" or "micronized" zinc oxide and are much more cosmetically pleasing. One of the best on the market is made by
and is sold through the office.
There are many good products on the market. Expensive and inexpensive brands can be found which provide adequate protection. You simply have to find the correct SPF and look at the active ingredients for Parsol 1789 or zinc oxide. Typically the more expensive lines are easier to apply and feel better on your skin encouraging you to use them more often. Many men like the gel, spray, or foam formulations because they go on clear and dry quickly. They are great for hair-bearing and oily skin. The most important thing is for you to find a sunscreen that you like and will use that meets the above requirements.