Just as the sun warms the earth and brings forth life, it also takes life away ; especially from your skin. No one can dispute the unfortunate fact that the ultraviolet (UV) component of sun exposure is the overriding cause of wrinkles, sagging, splotches, blotches, dark spots, flaking and worn-out skin—what we call photo-aging.
Sun protection is by far the most effective anti-aging treatment for people of all ages. If proof is needed of what photo-aging has done to your skin, place your sunscreenfore arm next to your inner thigh and notice the difference. The result of what you thought was a “healthy “ tan is not bronzed skin but actual damage to the vital DNA in your cells. Damage that accelerates the aging process—yet is almost entirely preventable.
It is never too late to repair sun damage today and start preparing for tomorrow.
Let’s take a look at what UV radiation is, and how the sun damages skin and what the sunscreens are.
UVA and UVB Radiation
UVA and UVB are different wavelengths of light, just like green light differs from red light. UVA is about twenty times more abundant than UVB on the earth’s surface but UVB produces a thousand times more damage than UVA.
A widely held view, repeated by many dermatologists and in cited articles about the sun, is that UVB damages DNA and causes sunburn, while UVA produces free radicals and causes aging. There’s even a catchy slogan: “UVB is for Burning, and UVA is for Aging”.
UVB is definitely the more devious villain, as it’s more effective than UVA in producing both DNA damage and free radicals. That is because UVB slams into skin with far more energy. UVB also causes much worse sunburn and produces much darker tanning than UVA.
But this does not mean that UVA is by any means safe. A cranked up blast of UVA that creates a tan will produce the same chemical changes in the skin and its DNA that are produced by UVB.
Don’t think you are safe from UVA and UVB in your home, office or cars. Just take a look at the upholstery on a chair near window to see what the sun can do! Car windshield glass blocks about 97 percent of UVA and UVB but side windows block only one third to one half of UVA and UVB rays.
The Sun Protection Factor ( SPF)
Sunscreens are rated by their Sun protection factor, or SPF. When you use sunscreen under ideal condition, the SPF number indicates how much longer than usual you can stay in the sun without getting sunburn.
For example, if you normally can stay in the sun unprotected for twenty minutes before your skin begins to burn, SPF 15 allows you to remain in the sun for fifteen times longer or five hours, without burning.
For everyday use against incidental sun exposure in temperate climate, such as driving to work or taking the kids to school, SPF 15 is usually fine. However, if you are outdoors for the better part of the day SPF 30 is better.
A higher SPF is not always better. SPF 15 will shield you from about 94 percent of the sun’s rays and SPF 30 will only increase your protection to 97 percent, and it may increase the risk of skin irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin. But if you are fair and burn easily, that extra 3 percent makes a difference.
Remember, no single sunscreen is right for everyone. Some people are allergic to one or the other ingredients, and each person has a preference for texture, how product rubs or sprays onto skin, what color it leaves behind ( if any), and its cost. Always try out sunscreens with different chemical ingredients if you are allergic to any one.
How to use Sunscreen correctly
- Sunscreen must be applied in a thick layer. In order to get an SPF that matches what’s on the bottle, you need a full table spoon of sunscreen for your face alone. These amounts are what’s used in sunscreen testing, which means that if you don’t use the same amount, you will never be getting an accurate SPF.
- Do not avoid those areas which are exposed to sunlight such as temples, the ears and the back and neck.
- Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, or immediately after swimming or perspiring. Most sunscreens degrade in sunlight. This means they become less effective over the time.
- If you use a moisturizer along with a sunscreen, the rule to remember is that sunscreens are applied at last. They should be the first product that encounters the sun’s rays, so it’s better if they are not interfered with by other cosmetics.
How to choose a right Sunscreen
- Sun screen that reduces both UVA & UVB rays are called “ broad spectrum.” Always try to buy broad spectrum sun screen for full protection.
- Look for chemical ingredient zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These in organic compounds reflect light away from the skin. Zinc oxide is slightly better at absorbing UVA and it leaves less of a white film on the skin when applied.
- If you develop a sunscreen reaction, take the bottle with you when you need to purchase a new brand and compare labels. That ways you can try to eliminate whatever irritant has caused the problem until you find a sunscreen that works for your skin.
- Always look for expiration date on the bottle. You certainly don’t want to pay for a bottle that’s been sitting around in a drug store for more than a year.
- If your skin is oily or blemish-prone, use a clear liquid or oil-free gel formulation because it is less likely to clog your pores than greasy lotions or creams.
Tips for safe sun exposure
- Find sunscreen with an SPF 15 and an SPF 30 that you like to stick with them.
- Get in the habit of putting on the SPF 15 sunscreen every morning. Be sure to apply it at least twenty minutes before going outside.
- Make it one of your mantras “ if I don’t wear sunscreen every day, I know that I am damaging my skin”.
- If your sunscreen bottle is lasting for more than a couple of weeks during the summer, you’re not using it enough.
- Wear hats with broad brims (at least four inches) especially in summers. Get used to having them be a regular part of your wardrobe
- Try to wear clothing that has the highest SPF that you can stand. A dark shirt or dark color of clothes will give you a lot more protection than a gauzy wrap.
- Make this another one of your mantras, “it’s never too early to start protecting myself from photo-aging!”
Baking in the sun unprotected and getting roasted at tanning salons won’t give you a healthy bronze glow. Instead, they give you prematurely photoaged skin. But you can still enjoy the outdoors if you take reasonable precautions.