Sun Protection: Busting Myths and Saving Face
I don’t know about everyone else, but my summers are a three-month mission to float in water as humanly possible and an increased effort to protect my skin from the damaging effects of UV rays. Sun protection should be a year-round effort, but the warmth and long summer days make for more playtime in the sun, making sun protection all the more critical. To help others navigate skin health during the summer, let’s talk about how the sun affects the skin, how to adequately protect your skin during the summer, and some of the myths associated with sun protection.
One of the challenges I faced as an esthetician was getting my younger clients to understand that the damage caused to their skin won’t be visible until later in life. The UV rays that can damage the skin are UVA and UVB. Both types of UV rays cause damage to the DNA of skin cells, can cause mutations, and increase the risk of skin cancer. UVA rays, also known as aging rays, penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and cause damage to the DNA that results in long-term damage, such as wrinkles and fine lines. UVB rays, also known as “burning rays,” penetrate the top layers of the skin, causing tanning or burning and playing the most significant role in skin cancer. UV exposure to the skin is cumulative, meaning that the risks associated with exposure increase with every exposure. You’re wrong if you’re reading this and thinking it’s too late for you and your skin. It’s never too late to create good sun protection habits.
Protecting your skin from the sun should be a multi-prong approach, with the first preventative measure being sunscreen. Sunscreen is measured by its sun protection factor (SPF). SPF measures how much solar energy is required to produce sunburn on protected skin compared to the solar energy needed to create a sunburn on unprotected skin. SPF only protects the skin from UVB rays. Only sunscreens labeled as Broad Spectrum offer protection from UVA rays. It is also important to remember that solar energy is strongest between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, so a higher SPF and more frequent reapplication of sunscreen may be necessary.
Sunscreens can be physical, chemical, or a combination of both. Each has its pros and cons. In the simplest terms, a physical sunscreen creates a protective layer on the skin to reflect UV rays, and a chemical sunscreen soaks into the skin and absorbs UV rays like a sponge. Both chemical and physical sunscreens have pros and cons. Chemical sunscreens are often thinner and easier to apply but can irritate more sensitive skin. They require roughly 20 minutes to soak into the skin before efficacy, so plan accordingly. In the past, physical sunscreens left an intense white, chalky layer on the skin, but these formulas have improved in recent years, and many sheer formulations now exist. Remember that mineral sunscreens act as a layer on the skin, physically blocking UV rays; it is effective as soon as it is applied to the skin; however, if that layer is rubbed off, protection is no longer offered. I prefer a physical sunscreen so that I have immediate coverage upon application.
No matter what sunscreen you choose, the reapplication process is a critical factor in efficacy. On average, sunscreen (no matter the strength) is only effective for roughly two hours. If the individual is playing in the water or sweating heavily, that window of protection may get even smaller. As a general rule, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours. Sunscreen doesn’t block all UV rays, even if you reapply throughout the day. Because of this, I also wear hats and protective clothing. Look for clothing and hats with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). UPF measures the amount of UV radiation penetrating the fabric and reaching your skin. A UPF rating of 30 is great, but a UPF rating of 50 is excellent.
“I don’t need sun protection because I work in an office.”
You need sun protection unless you live and work in a cave with no windows. Windows block UVB rays but not the skin-aging UVA rays. If you look in the mirror, you might notice more age spots on your left cheek than on your r age spots resulting from UV exposure while driving.
“I wear a high SPF, so I don’t need to reapply often.”
A higher SPF often gives individuals a false sense of security, thinking they can’t get sunburned with a higher SPF. No matter how high the SPF, some UV rays will still penetrate the skin leaving a risk of sun damage. Reapplication every two hours is necessary for continued coverage.
“I don’t need sun protection on a cloudy day.”
Clouds are water-vapor and offer no protection from skin-damaging UV rays. Cloudy days can often trick people into forgetting sunscreen because they don’t get as hot and don’t remember to reapply sunscreen.
“I don’t need to wear SPF because it is already in my makeup.”
Most makeup offers no more than an SPF 15, which isn’t enough protection. Even if the makeup has an SPF higher than 15, most people apply their makeup in the morning, so reapplication is still necessary for continued coverage throughout the day.
“I don’t wear sunscreen because it prevents the body from producing Vitamin D.”
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient our bodies produce in the skin with UV exposure. No matter how much or how strong an SPF, some UV rays penetrate the skin and allow the body to make Vitamin D. Vitamin D can also be obtained through supplementation and eating fortified foods like milk or orange juice.
“I don’t wear sunscreen because it makes me break out.”
Suppose your skin is breaking out when you wear sunscreen. Breakouts are more reflective of whether that particular sunscreen is formulated for your specific skin type and possibly reflect the quality of the sunscreen you’re wearing and its ingredients. When choosing a sunscreen, make sure you’re choosing a reputable brand and that it is designed for your skin type. At Oliver Finley Academy, we offer sunscreens from Tuel and Image Skincare.
Sun Protection CheckList
- Choose a sunscreen that is appropriate for your skin type.
- Broad Spectrum SPF of 30 to 50
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours or more frequently if swimming or excessively sweating
- Wide Brimmed Hat with UPF
- Stay in the shade between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm when the sun is strongest