Making Sense of Sunscreen

Sun Hat

Free radicals (specifically ROS or reactive oxygen species) are a major cause of aging of the skin, and sun exposure is a major cause of these free radicals.  They create changes to your collagen and elastin fibers that render them stiff and inelastic, resulting in lines and deep wrinkles.  They change the structure of keratinocytes that create a leathery look to the skin.  It stimulates uneven skin tone and patches of pigmentation.  And, it can cause skin cancer.

Are you being smart about saving your skin from accelerated aging caused by damage from the UV rays from the sun? Are you getting adequate protection from skin cancer? The savvy sunscreen user knows how to avoid the following sunscreen mistakes.  She also knows how to choose esthetically sophisticated formulas that meet the needs of her individual skin type.  Then she meticulously applies sunscreen daily to obtain maximum top performance resulting in a more youthful, glowing complexion. Don’t make these common sunscreen mistake:

1. Not consistently using your sunscreen.
The first sunscreen mistake is not wearing any. By now, we all know that spending too much time in the sun increases your risk for both skin cancer and premature aging. Sunscreen is not just something you wear at the beach.  Any time the sun is out (even on cloudy days or in winter) you are exposed to damaging ultraviolet rays.  So why do people skip wearing sunscreen?  I think it’s because sunscreens don’t always feel like a plus for their skin.  Some people break out from sunscreens, it can be irritating or feel heavy or just make you feel hot.  If you have rosacea, it often increases redness. Sunscreen can also be drying, pore clogging or create a dull look to the skin.

Sensitive Skin:
If you have sensitive skin you should look for particulate based sunscreen ingredients like a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  These non-chemical sunscreens stay near the surface of your skin and work like a shield to protect it from damaging rays from the sun.  Chemical sunscreens work by converting ultraviolet light into heat which is then released from the skin.  The problem here for sensitive skin is that heat can cause inflammation, making it more likely for your skin to react.  The down side of non-chemical sunscreens is that unless you’re applying lots of product (think white face) you may be leaving your skin vulnerable to sunlight which might pass in-between the little particulate particles. These particles are like little ball bearings piled up on your skin, where it is possible for sunlight to pass through the spaces created in-between particles. If your skin can tolerate it I recommend you choose a formula that contains just bit of chemical sunscreen to give you more complete protective barrier against the sun.

Know your skin type:
There are many sunscreen formulas out there.  Some are oil free, moisturizing, have anti-aging ingredients added (like peptides), have calming ingredients (like green tea). One size does not fit all.  So, get the right formula for your skin type.  I really like the idea of combining sunscreen and moisturizer into one product.  It not only makes your skincare routine easier, it avoids an added layer that might end up clogging your pores.

The Vitamin D question:
Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is manufactured in our skin from UVB rays when we are out in the sun. So, should you wear sunscreen or not wear sunscreen?  If you don’t, you’ll end up with deep wrinkles and unsightly dark spots. You’ll look older before your time and may even get skin cancer.  If you do, you may not be getting enough vitamin D. which is important for healthy bones and teeth and may even help prevent some cancers. Plus, there are only a few foods that offer you Vitamin D: Cheese, Fatty fish (like salmon) and liver. Whether or not you have a vitamin D deficiency may depend on where you live.  If you live in Florida you’re probably getting more than enough sun to create vitamin D.  If you live in New England, not so much.  If you think you may have vitamin D deficiency you should go have it checked by your doctor.  Then you should definitely consider supplements. I personally supplement with 2000 mg vitamin D daily plus I take a good quality brand of cod liver oil each morning.  Your doctor can help you create your own strategy but keeping up with your sunscreen is really essential in my book.


2.  Putting too much faith in the SPF number on the bottle.
Don’t put all your confidence in the SPF (sun protection factor) number on the bottle. This number only refers to how much the sunscreen is protecting your skin against  damaging UVB rays (the burning rays). There is still no number that measures UVA rays (the aging rays).  Both rays can contribute to skin cancer. Your best bet is to look for a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that handles both.  Also, the number doesn’t accurately represent how much more protection you’ll get. For example if you are using an SPF 30 you are not getting twice the protection that you’d get from an SPF 15.  An SPF 50 requires quite a lot more chemicals than an SPF 30 and the protection difference is negligible.  The higher the SPF the greater the risk of having a reaction.  The FDA no longer allows manufacturers to claim an SPF higher than 50.  100% protection from sunscreen alone is nearly impossible.

I would recommend SPF 15 if you live in an area that gets a traditional winter with lots of clouds and snow.  Then you can focus on the products moisturizing capabilities. In warmer months, with more sun, you definitely need an SPF of 30. When going to the tropics you might want to pick up a heavy hitter like SPF 50 or more, but wash it off meticulously because the higher SPFs also means the higher risk of clogging the pores of getting breakouts.

3. Relying on the SPF in your makeup for protection.
A foundation/sunscreen combination may be time saving and seems handy, but that doesn’t mean it works well. Part of the problem is quantity.  A little dab of foundation isn’t enough to give you the actual SPF listed on the bottle.  Also, makeup wears off during the day and chances are you aren’t re-applying it the way you would a sunscreen. That being said,  I would still choose to use a foundation that contains some SPF and apply it over my regular sunscreen/moisturizer, just to get a little added protection.  Still, you should not think of this as a replacement for your sunscreen.

4. Not applying enough product.
When the FDA set up the SPF number scale they were counting on the consumer using about an ounce of protection for one application over the entire body.  For some sunscreen products that might mean a quarter of the bottle.  Most people don’t end up using anywhere near enough sunscreen to get the SPF protection listed.

This is what I recommend – for just the face.  When you get up in the morning and do your regular skin care routine use about the size of a peanut to cover just your face (more for the neck, arms, chest etc.).  Then go and get dressed.  When you come back to the bathroom, reapply another peanut amount.  This is what we call the “two peanut approach” to sunscreen application. It’s a good rule of thumb for daily application. If you are in a sun situation you’ll need to reapply every two hours.

5. Keeping your sunscreen product too long
The active ingredients in sunscreens can deteriorate over time, which means the protection won’t be as effective. Even though the shelf life listed may be for two years, we recommend starting the summer off with a fresh bottle .  You can use up last years formula on your body if you can’t bare to get rid of it.  Make sure to toss your sunscreen after the two year expiration date printed on the bottle.  Remember, how you store your sunscreen also plays a part in the shelf life of the product.  Keeping your sunscreen in the trunk in of your car in hot weather will quickly deteriorate the product. So choose a cool dark place to store your sunscreen when not in use.

6. All you need is sunscreen to protect you from uneven pigmentation.

Aging skin is not just wrinkled skin.  Unwanted pigmentation changes make your skin look tired and dull.  Skin changes that cause brown spots or uneven pigmentation may have occurred from past sun damage that may have happened decades ago.  For a while, much of this damage was suppressed due to the presence of the hormone estrogen.  As we age estrogen levels drop and all of a sudden those brown spots appear. This can happen even after you’ve made the commitment to stay out of the sun.  To reduce some of this pigmentation I recommend that you try to keep your skin cool.  This is because, after a certain age: Heat + Hormone Changes = Pigmentation Changes.  To keep cool, wear protective clothing and stay out of the sun as much as possible.

7. There is nothing you can do once the damage is done.

You can greatly improve the texture, color and condition of your skin with regular facials and smart homecare.  Start by using your sunscreen fastidious, every day.  Studies show that using sunscreen daily, even after the damage, allows for some skin repair to occur. Exfoliate regularly (your esthetician can suggest which exfoliant is right for you) to rid the skin of dull, pigmented cells.  Superficial peels can be really helpful.  Salicylic or Lactic acid peels seem to work best, but don’t do this and then go roast yourself in the sun.  Protect yourself from the free radical damage by incorporating powerful antioxidants into your routine, Vitamin C, green tea and flavonoids are good secondary ingredients to include in your sunscreen formula.