In my teens and early 20’s, my girlfriends and I spent holidays trying to get the best “tan” possible with excursions to sun destinations. We doused our faces and bodies with baby oil and put tin foil over a large piece of cardboard to optimize the sun’s maximum reflection that led to a good charred first-degree burn by end of first day. We proudly denounced that sunscreen was for sissies. Despite our bright red-hot skin, swelling and occasional blister the day after our initial eight plus hours of sun exposure basking like a piece of bacon on a chaise lounge, my skin would eventually tan. My friends and I would return to school and work leaving us with a foolish sense of achievement as we all wore our white shirts to show off our bronze skin. We were too young and stupid to know the long- term permanent damage we were doing to our collagen and elastin fibers-the scaffolding holding up our skin.
Then in my 30’s and 40’s, I took up long distance running, hiking and skiing. I would be outside in nature’s elements on cloudy and sunny days for long periods of time with no sunscreen on my face or body. The thought of sweating profusely with creams on my face that could irritate my eyes and clog my pores was enough to keep me from applying any environmental protection. At that time, the extent of my skin care was a light moisturizer during the day and bedtime and a new bar of Ivory soap every month.
Then in my 50’s, one of my running buddies was diagnosed with melanoma and another had several squamous cell carcinoma lesions removed. This news triggered me to have a “mole patrol” with an experienced dermatologist. My doctor lectured me about UVB/UVA radiation impact on skin and the increased risk of skin cancer from prolonged, unprotected direct and indirect sun. She then wisely appealed to my sense of vanity by emphasizing how skin ages prematurely with brown spots, fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin from chronic UVB/UVA rays. I left her office with a prescription for Vitamin A (Tretinoin), a serum of anti-oxidants and moisturizer with a host of hydrating ingredients and a sunscreen sampler with zinc oxide.
Within 6 months of my appointment with my dermatologist, I began to see dramatic transformational changes in my skin. I switched from Ivory soap to a creamy facewash and added exfoliating polish 3 times a week in the shower. I had my first intense pulse light to lift my hyperpigmentation from years of sun damage and hormonal fluctuations. I also began having regular medium depth peels several times a year. But of all the new daily skin habits I adopted in a one- year timeframe making my skin appear more youthful, the one product that was by far the most crucial to preserve my skin investments was sunblock. As a trained RN and Medical Esthetician, I now tell all my clients, “If you ever have to go out naked, please don’t do so without your sunscreen!”
If I knew in my early youth what I’ve known having had my esthetic training second phase of adulthood, I would have made different choices. I would have worn a large brim hat when out in the sun, applied sunscreen daily ( rain or shine) and reapplied every 90 minutes if in water.
Today’s sunscreen options have wonderful advantages due to nanotechnology to the white pasty zinc oxide of the past. Here’s a summary of what to look for in sunscreens.
1. Use a true physical barrier sunblock with broadband protection that has inorganic particles such as Zinc Oxide and Titaneum Dioxide. Physical sunblocks reflect and scatter UV rays and release their energy as heat vs. sunscreens with just chemical ingredients which absorb UV light and work by inhibiting enzyme production to produce more melanin (brown pigment). Chemical sunscreens are less effective to reduce risk of skin cancer and other UV exposure conditions.
2. Make sure your sun protection product is rated and labeled with a sun protection factor (SPF) that measures at least 36. This means that 1/36 of the burning radiation reaches the skin through the recommended thickness of sunscreen.
3. Always check if expiration dates on the sunscreen are current to ensure it is still effective.
4. Find a sunblock with a tint color that matches your skin type to avoid any risk of a white pasty look although most clear sunblocks don’t leave you with the heavy viscous look or feel of the old days.
5. Find a sunblock with a moisturizer in it preferably like Hyaluronic Acid or Glycerin to provide glide when applying.
6. Wear sun protective clothing for UV protection. Stylish options are better than ever with ventilated weaves, moisture wicking and antibacterial properties to assist in cooling and breathability. Check out solbari.com, Cooibar.com,Solumbra.com and Columbia.com ( Omni-shade) as clothing sites with a range of neat options.
Personally, I am big fan of Alastin’s® Hydratint Pro-Mineral– a lightweight, all physical, broad=spectrum sunscreen that provides daily protection from UVA/UVB rays. It has a moisturizer, foundation and broad- spectrum sun protector all in one. Cost $55.
I also love the recent release of Sunbetter Tone Smart SPF 68 Sunscreen Compact by Skinbetter Science®. It is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation. It is 100% minerals in a tone adapting compact that provides a hint of color. It is both effective and elegant with the value add of mirror compact to carry with you and apply anytime you need. Cost:$55
Skinbetter Science also released Sunbetter SHEER SPF 56 Sunscreen Stick. Great option for kids over 18 months. Cost:$45
My patients report higher compliance with convenient packaging, like the soft and silky feel and some even report their pores were less visible after application.
Men and women have no more excuses to not wear sunscreen whenever they plan to be outside. Hindsight is 20:20. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Skip the tanning oils, tanning booths to keep your skin looking and feeling healthier and younger longer.