Okay, okay…I get it! You’re sick of hearing about sunscreen, right? I hear you, but did you know it’s one of the most beneficial anti-aging things you can do for your skin. ONE OF THE MOST BENEFICIAL (yes, I just yelled at you). I know I’m getting all “mom” on you…brush your teeth, wear clean underwear…and put on your sunscreen! There are good reasons for this, so let’s talk about it.
Did you know that skin cancer is the #1 cancer diagnosed in the United States and that 1 in 5 people will be affected? As if that’s not bad enough, sun exposure MAKES YOU LOOK OLD! Yes…it ages your skin faster than almost anything else. Well, maybe except for cigarette smoking (look at that, I AM turning into your mom). So let’s shed some light on the subject. Even if you never turn red in the summer, we need to get away from the idea that your skin is only damaged by the sun if it’s burned to a crisp. Nope!
It’s the little things
UV light is pretty strong all year around. UVA rays even penetrate glass – so we are truly exposed to some degree almost all day. Over time, repeated exposure to UVA and UVB rays breaks down the elastin in your skin (the stuff that keeps it plump). This causes premature aging and eventually fine lines and wrinkles. While this may be NBD when you’re in your teens and 20s; however, that’s actually when the worst damage happens. And guess what? It’s irreversible. Yup, no re-dos. You can’t just decide to stay out of the sun and get that beautiful, soft, “baby butt” skin again. All those exposures add up – and the end result is one big frown line, discolorations and dark spots, sagging or leathery skin, and wrinkles – ugh! Most of the cumulative sun damage we see on the skin is NOT from the beach, it’s from daily activities and intermittent, so called ‘incidental’ sun exposure. All that sun really adds up and over the years it makes a huge difference. Sorry, but even dashing out of the house for a moment to grab a coffee on a sunny morning counts.
What do we do about it?
So, what to do, you ask? Sunscreen! The key is choosing the correct one. You should look for something that is:
- Broad spectrum (covers both UVA and UVB light)
- SPF 30 or higher. This will block 96% of UV rays- you only get minimal increases in protection as you go higher
- For an adult body, apply 1.0 ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) to all exposed areas of your skin
- Wait 15 – 30 minutes before going outside. Don’t skip your scalp, ears, and feet, which are all susceptible to both sunburn and skin cancer.
- Reapply every two hours or after perspiring or swimming. Even if you are wearing a waterproof sunscreen, it needs to be reapplied regularly.
Throw out and replace sunscreen per its expiration date or if you notice changes in its color and/or consistency.
Ingredients matter too. Physical sunscreens work like a shield, sitting sit on the surface of your skin and deflecting the sun’s rays. They contain the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Opt for this sunscreen if you have sensitive skin. The FDA is proposing that these two ingredients are “generally recognized as safe and effective” (GRASE).
The FDA is calling for more safety data on the following 12 ingredients before determining whether these ingredients can be classified as GRASE: ensulizole, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, avobenzone. These are “chemical sunscreen” ingredients – theywork like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. These formulations tend to be easier to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue. The FDA currently assumes these are safe, but are conducting studies and have called for more data. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the use of either physical or chemical sunscreens.
So…. what’s the take home message? Whether you choose a physical or chemical screen (our preference is physical), make it part of your daily skincare routine. Apply before sun exposure, reapply often, and make sure it’s a high SPF and waterproof. Oh, and don’t forget to brush your teeth!
Dina M. Canavero, MD, MPH