For those of us in the southern hemisphere spring and summer are around the corner, so now is as good a time as any to brush up on some of the does and don'ts when it comes to sun-protection.
There’s a wide range of perspectives when it comes to spending time in the sun: Some people head to the beach with the sole purpose of leaving with a tan (I’ll admit, this was me, during my university years even to the extent I had tanning competitions with my best friend who had European skin). On the other end of the spectrum you have the sun-safe warriors with rash guards, hats, sunscreen, and umbrellas to help avoid UVA and UVB exposure (and this is me now that I’m a dermatologist and what I recommend professionally).
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I’ve learned in my medical and dermatology training—and from what I witness every day in my practice—just how much sun exposure contributes to skin cancers and photoaging (meaning, premature ageing that happens to your skin from repeated exposure to UV radiation). In fact, according to a study about 90 percent of the most common types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) can be directly attributed to UV exposure, and so can an estimated 90 percent of skin ageing.
Most people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, wanting to guard their skin from the sun, but perhaps not really knowing what products and strategies offer the best protection. They’ll grab something with SPF on the label, smear it on occasionally, and hope for the best. The problem is, not all sun protection products and practices are created equally, which leads to a false sense of security—and you may wind up burned, sun-damaged, or even facing a skin cancer at some point. Here are seven things you shouldn’t solely rely on to keep your skin completely safe this summer.
(For more information about my range of Clinical Grade Skincare click here.)
1. Supplements do not equal sun protection.
These may sound like an easy way to protect the skin, but they haven’t been proven to be safe and effective as methods of sun protection—something that the Food and Drug Association (FDA) in the US recently warned consumers about in a press announcement.
The bottom line is you still need to invest in sunscreen, sun protective clothing and sun avoidance at the peak times (9-4).
This isn’t to say that certain vitamins may not have some value. A 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that vitamin B3 (nicotinamide), one of my supplement favorites, may lower the risk of skin cancers and sunspots. A fern extract known as polypodium leucotomos, may have antioxidant properties beneficial to the skin after sun exposure, according to a few small studies. But these types of supplements are best considered complements to, not replacement of other proven forms of sun protection.
A better idea: Stick to what’s been proven to help keep your skin safe and healthy: Seek shade, avoid peak sun hours, slip into sun protective clothing, hats and sunglasses and apply broad-spectrum SPF 30 and above, sunscreen before going outside.
to find out more about the topical benefits of vitamin B3 click here
2. Your sunscreen won’t last all day.
Broad-spectrum SPF 30+ formulas protect for only about two hours—or less if you’ve been swimming or sweating. Frequent reapplications are the key to sun-safe skin. Keep in mind that this is two hours from the time you put it on—not two hours from the time you step into the sun. So if you put your sunscreen on at home, then drove an hour to the beach, then grabbed some lunch on the way, it may be time for another application before you even plop down in your beach chair. My simple rule is 2 applications (that’s right layer it on) every 2 hours.
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3. Sunscreen goes off!
Heat and sunlight can break down UV-filtering ingredients. That’s right sunscreens are unstable!
The kinds that guard against UVA-light like the chemical filter avobenzone tend to break down fastest, but all sunscreen ingredients do degrade with light and heat. Sunscreens last longer and work best if they are stored in a cool, shady spot, like in your beach bag or cooler. If you've dug up a bottle from the back of your closet or an old beach bag, make sure to check the date on it. The TGA regulates sunscreens like they are drugs and Australia has some of the best formulations in the world.
Most are labelled with an expiration date. If yours is past its prime, there’s no guarantee it will provide the level of protection listed on the bottle.
A better idea: Make sure to refresh your sunscreen supply regularly (the average person should go through at least a few bottles each summer for everyday activities), and pay attention to the expiration dates. When you’re done using your SPF, stash it in a cool location, like in your cooler, under a beach towel, or inside your house.
4. Application is everything!
The SPF sprinkled into foundations and BB creams can offer bonus protection. But unless you apply makeup with a trowel, then re-apply it every two hours, it won’t be enough to guard against sun damage effectively if you are directly out in the sun. You need a dedicated sunscreen product.
For day to day use where you are popping out of the office to pick up your lunch, your 30 BB / CC cream will give you enough as long as you’ve put it on right.
If you are heading to the beach or playing an outdoor sport I recommend putting on the sport sunscreen THEN applying your BB or CC cream over the top!
The amount of protection we get from a product varies widely based on the SPF number, texture, thickness, and how much we wear. This rule applies to sunscreen, too: If you apply a thin layer of sunblock, you may not be getting the full SPF level listed on the bottle. Most adults only apply one quarter to a half of the recommended amount of sunscreen when they put it on, according to the AAD. For that same reason, you shouldn’t rely on the SPF you’re getting when you put on your foundation.
A better idea: Rub on a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen (or a daily moisturizer spiked with broad-spectrum SPF 30+) every morning, followed by makeup or whatever else you like to wear on top. And if you're going to be in the sun for a prolonged time, like at a rooftop happy hour, you’ll need to reapply at regular intervals.
I realise some people may be worried about messing with their makeup by putting more sunscreen on top. Think about other forms of protection like a wide-brim sun hat, a scarf around your neck area and a good pair of sunnies.
For more information about my range of Clinical Grade Skincare click here.
5. Your Hair is not a Hat
There’s no doubt that a thick headful of hair can protect the scalp from the sun. But even for those with hair like Sia, the part in your hair and the ears are sun-kissed sites that are often left exposed. Dermatologists regularly see pre-cancers and skin cancers, including melanoma, in these zones. In fact, in my practice, I diagnose the very common basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinomas on and around the ears of patients basically every day.
A better idea: Tightly-woven, broad-brimmed hats offer ideal protection, but add a layer of sunscreen to the tops of the ears.
6. Your car window is not a shield!
UVA light can sail right through you car windows! Yes that's right - you are getting damage whilst driving. Some researchers believe that’s why North Americans can have increased sun damage, sun spots, wrinkles, and skin cancers on the left side of the face and body while down under we have more damage on the right. There are studies showing in Australia a freckle type of melanoma known as lentigo maligna, is more common on the right side of the face.
this means we can’t assume that just because we’re in the car all day we’re fine to skip sun protection.
A better idea: Consider a quick layer of sunscreen in the car as the skincare equivalent of buckling up. Keep a tube in the glove box. Add in some chic driving gloves.
7. T shirts just don’t cut it.
White t-shirts, gauzy fabrics, and flowy caftans feel breezy, but can’t be trusted to offer much sun protection. A thin white t-shirt offers an SPF of just 4-5—and if it becomes wet, that number can drop to three, which is not sufficient to guard against ultraviolet damage.
A better idea: Clothes labelled SPF 50 are far safer, since they’ve been tested to show they offer excellent UV protection. This is a simple way to get protection while out at the beach.
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The final thought:
Sun safety and protection is something that is becoming increasingly important, especially in countries like Australia which has such harsh environmental conditions. For more information about my range of Clinical Grade Skincare click here.