|UV Exposure and "U"
Let's cover the basics, first. Look it up anywhere, and you'll find that sun damage occurs from over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Prominent New York City dermatologist Dr. Ariel Ostad confirms, pointing out ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) as the co-conspirators. "When this ultraviolet energy enters the skin, they damage the skin cells, causing visible and invisible injuries," he explains. "Some of the injury is repaired, but other cell damage accumulates year after year."
Dr. Julie K. Salmon, board-certified dermatologist practicing out of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, added, "Although UVB rays are the primary rays, which cause sunburn, UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin than shorter wavelength rays such as UVB and UVC." The conclusion? "UVA can be extremely damaging."
Surprisingly, UVA rays are present throughout the day and year, and are significant on cloudy days, according to Dr. Salmon. "This means that the amount of UVA we get on a winter morning is not that different from the amount we get on a midsummer day. UVA even penetrates window glass!"
I Saw the Sign
Looking at your skin, can you pinpoint the signs of sun damage and when that damage occurred? Dr. Ostad says, "For most individuals, the majority of skin damage due to the sun occurs before the age of 18. Early in life, sunburns are the only signs of over-exposure." Apparently, only later in life will we finally be able to recognize the detrimental effects to our skin and body. Both dermatologists point out the following to be common signs of sun damage:
Pre-mature skin aging
Discolorations, such as: unwanted redness, blotchy dark and light pigmentation, and yellowing
Leathery skin, wrinkles and diminished elasticity
Age spots and liver spots
Immune system suppression
Skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, or melanoma
The good news is that there are a myriad of ways we can protect our skin. The first strategy suggested by both dermatologists is to avoid direct sun exposure. This is "especially important between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.," Dr. Ostad emphasized, as "midday summer sunlight has the greatest concentration and intensity of UVA and UVB rays."
Dr. Salmon extends the peak sun time one more hour, encouraging us to avoid the sun until 4 p.m. "Seek the shade when possible, cover up as able, and wear sunglass protection and hats," says Dr. Salmon. But a word of caution: "Keep in mind that about 80 percent to 85 percent of the sun's rays may be reflected, so the hats, trees, umbrellas, etc., do not protect your skin fully."
What, then, should be our next layer of defense? "Sunscreen," Dr. Salmon states.
Oh-Oh, Ohhh-Oh...The Right Stuff
If you're like most people, you would think that all you need is a sunscreen with high SPF, and you're good to go. Not true! Dr. Salmon explains, "The SPF primarily reflects the ability of a product to block UVB rays, since it is based on the sunscreen's ability to prevent sunburn." And if we are going to pay attention to SPF, Dr. Salmon recommends SPF 30 or higher for her patients.
But, "Sun-savvy people do not choose a sunscreen by its SPF; they look at the active ingredients to ensure that they are getting UVA protection," Dr. Salmon says. And, recall that UVA is far more penetrating than UVB.
Active ingredients you should look for in sunscreen include: micronized zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, niacin, and avobenzone. Dr. Salmon says avobenzone has to be stabilized with one of the following to keep it active for longer than an hour after exposure: Helioplex, active photobarrier complex, or ecamsule. Dr. Salmon adds that although titanium dioxide blocks some UVA, "it does not block the longer wavelength UVA rays." So, she would suggest avoiding sunblocks with titanium dioxide as the sole sunblock. Check out sunblock recommendations that feature each of the active ingredients.
NIA 24 Sun Damage Prevention 100% Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
This is the top one recommended by both Dr. Salmon and Dr. Ostad. Dr. Ostad explains that "NIA 24 is the only sunscreen on the market today which includes all of the essential ingredients needed to give you a broad spectrum of coverage." NIA 24 includes the big-hitters zinc oxide and a special, niacin, as well as titanium oxide. NIA 24 separates itself from the pack with its special, breakthrough form of niacin called Pro-Niacin®. It is the first and only patented niacin molecule that converts to its active form to regenerate skin cell layers. The Skin Cancer Foundation even recommends it as an effective UV sunscreen. Learn about more NIA 24 skin care products with Pro-Niacin®.
Other recommendations featuring zinc oxide include:
Elta MD SPF 41 or SPF 30 (from $20)
Solbar Shield SPF 40 ($13.08)
Vanicream Sensitive Skin SPF 30 or SPF 60
Recommendations featuring avobenzone include:
Neutrogena (stabilized with Helioplex)
Aveeno (stabilized with active photobarrier complex)
L'Oreal (stabilized with ecamsule)
Solving the SPF Conundrum
We now know that active ingredients are important to consider when choosing a sunscreen, but you might still have the nagging question of which SPF is right for you. Again, the suggested SPF to apply when going outdoors is 30, but if you want a more customized answer, Dr. Ostad recommends taking a look at the chart below.
The Rules of Application
Many people are confused about when and how often to re-apply sunscreen. I am among the many. However, Dr. Ostad and Dr. Salmon easily cleared this up.
"Sunscreens should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors," says Dr. Ostad. He urges that we pay particular attention to the face, ears, hands and arms, and make sure to apply one ounce--a shot glass full--of sunscreen, which is considered the amount needed to cover exposed areas.
Dr. Salmon adds that we must also remember to protect our lips, as these are "also at risk of skin cancer and premature aging." Both dermatologists recommend that reapplication occur every two hours or after swimming, exercising or sweating.
A warning from Dr. Ostad for all you fans of water-resistant products, however: "Even so-called 'water-resistant' sunscreens may lose their effectiveness after 40 minutes in the water. Sunscreens rub off as well as wash off, so if you've towel-dried, reapply sunscreen for continued protection."
Other Players that Protect
If the sunscreen process is too much for you, or not enough, and you fear it's your only avenue, take heart! There are other ways you can supplement your sun protection practices.
Hats, long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses are all great options. Dr. Salmon also mentions that clothes that protect against UV are available. These UV-blocking clothes are made "with an 'Ultraviolet Protection Factor' or UPF rating," she says. This system is very similar to the SPF rating system used for sunscreens, so a UPF of 50 means 98% of UV radiation.
Dr. Salmon recommends Coolibar brand sun protective clothing. All of the brand's garments rate UPF 50+, which is the highest possible rating. See all garments for women (from $19.99 on sale), for men (from $23.99 on sale), and for kids (from $15.99 on sale). Another brand for sun-sensible people is Sun Precautions, which offers clothing for everyone in the family starting from around $70 for adults and $50 for kids. Sun Precautions' Solumbra fabrics block at least 97% of UVA and UVB rays, which is an equivalent of SPF 30.
Coolibar (Left): Ruffled Henley, Sun Block Jacket, Polo Shirt
Sun Precautions (Right): Beach Tunic, Leaf Print Shirt, Striped Polo
If those styles aren't for you, you can just fortify your existing wardrobe! According to Dr. Salmon, you can "wash-in" UV protection right with Rit SunGuard laundry treatment ($19.50), which "can boost the UPF of a white cotton t-shirt from UPF 5 to 30, and lasts for up to 20 washings."
UV Protective Films
Recall that while untreated glass can block UVB rays, it is no match for those short-wavelength UVA rays. A sure way to block 99.9% of those UVA rays from entering your car as you drive is to apply UV protective films to your car windows. There is also UV protection for the home, to protect your family as well as your furnishings. Dr. Salmon recommends UVShield products by Llumar. You must have these installed by someone from the Llumar company. You can find out more on the UVShield website.
Anti-Aging Products: ABC+
Another strategy for protective defense is antioxidants and products for enhancing skin repair. No sunscreen is perfect and no person uses it perfectly, Dr. Salmon reasons, so you'll always need backup protection: anti-aging products. Dr. Salmon teaches her patients an easy way to remember the most effective anti-aging products with the mnemonic: ABC+.
"A" is for the retinoids, which are forms of vitamin A. Dr. Salmon explains that "retinoids stimulate skin cell renewal and reduce collagen breakdown." Continual use of retinoids "enhances skin radiance, diminishes the appearance of pores, enhances skin tone and reduces fine wrinkles." She recommends Avene Retrinal to her patients because "it combines strength and effectiveness without the irritation of most retinoids."
Try Dr. Salmon's recommendation: Avene Retrinal ($36.45-$64)
"B" is for niacin, which is vitamin B3. Niacin is available as Nicotinic acid, which Dr. Salmon says is important because it "penetrates deeply into the skin where it energizes the cells and enhances the repair of damaged DNA in cells." According to Dr. Salmon, niacin also works to enhance moisture content, improve the skin barrier, promote renewal of upper skin layers, reduce the hardening of collagen, and improve the skin's immune system response. Dr. Salmon recommends NIA 24. She explains: "My patients who use NIA 24 products show improvement in skin firmness, smoothness and overall texture, more even skin tone, and reduction in fine lines and wrinkles. My favorite product is NIA 24 Intensive Recovery Complex."
Try Dr. Salmon's recommendation: NIA 24 Intensive Recovery Complex ($110)
"C" is for vitamin C and other antioxidants. Included are products that boost the skin's natural antioxidant system. Most of us know that antioxidants are great for protecting our cells from damaging free radicals. Dr. Salmon confesses that her favorite antioxidants are "those that combine the most powerful antioxidants so that they protect the lipid (fat) and water portions of the body." Dr. Salmon is most impressed with: SkinMedica's TNS Essential Serum, Skinceutical's C+ E Ferulic and Phloretin CF, and Oli-Vityl - a recent breakthrough ingredient in SK-II's Skin Signature cream. She states that "studies on the above products reveal skin with improved tone (more even pigmentation) and reduction in fine lines." The result is more healthy, more beautiful skin.
Try Dr. Salmon's recommendations:
Skinceuticals's C + E Ferulic (from $116.95)
Skinceuticals's Phloretin CF (from $119)
SPF in Makeup: Is it Enough?
Browse a drugstore or beauty retailer, and you'll see SPF popping up in all sorts of makeup products. But, can we trust these to do the job of sunscreen? Dr. Ostad says, "SPF found in makeup such as bareMinerals is a great way to get additional coverage," however, "you should also apply an SPF underneath makeup so it can absorb into your skin." He reasons that SPF mineral powders only sit on the top layer of skin, making them vulnerable to being wiped off. Try bareMinerals Mineral Veil SPF 25 ($19) or Matte Foundation with Mini Brush with SPF 15 (from $22) over your moisturizer sunscreen.
Dr. Salmon describes SPF makeup as "icing on the cake," but it should not be a sunscreen substitute. She gives two reasons: "First of all, most do not provide optimal UVA protection...secondly, most people would not apply a foundation or powder over the full face in the concentration needed to achieve good sun protection." She recommends applying a moisturizer with sunscreen as a "primer" before applying foundation.
For normal to dry skin, Dr. Salmon recommends Elta MD SPF 30 ($27.50) or Olay Complete SPF 30 (from $11.85) for sensitive skin.
For oily or acne-prone skin, Dr. Salmon recommends NIA Sun Damage Prevention 100% Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 ($45). Other "outstanding choices," according to Dr. Salmon, include: Elta MD UV Physical SPF 41 ($24) or Neutrogena DryTouch SPF 30 (from $7).
How often do you visit your dermatologist? Do you even have one? Dr. Ostad and Dr. Salmon both agree that annual skin checks with a dermatologist are extremely important if you want to optimize your health! Dr. Ostad says it's as important as seeing your family physicians for yearly physicals. In addition, he advises that we perform monthly self-examinations to observe changes in our skin to aid in the early detection of skin cancer. Dr. Ostad suggests we contact our dermatologist immediately "regarding any concerns or changes with moles, freckles or spots," especially if members of our family have been diagnosed with skin cancers.
According to Dr. Salmon, "Each year, the new diagnoses of skin cancers outnumber the combined incidence of lung, prostate, breast, and colon cancers." She urges that early detection saves lives, as many growths have been detected and treated in its precancerous stages.