Sun Smarts

Photo-aging, the technical term used to describe sun damage, can take years to show up on our skin. But every time you expose yourself to the sun sans protection, the skin loses the ability to repair itself, collagen and elastin become damaged, and that damage accumulates. Skin becomes saggy, wrinkled, and leathery, and fails to spring back. And forget about throwing pricey skin care at the problem. “I’ve seen so many women try to undo the damage with expensive skin care products, but who still leave their skin unprotected from the sun during the day,” says Dr. Brandt. “They are just going in circles!” In other words, you have two options if you want to hold on to healthy, young complexion: Either use sun protection, or stay out of the sun entirely!

Sun Care FAQs

Q: What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays?
A: UVB and UVA are the invisible ultraviolet rays emitted from the sun. UVA rays are known as the aging rays because they penetrate the skin more deeply and cause wrinkles. UVA rays can go through windows and through your clothing, so you are always in danger of exposure. They can also crack and shrink the collagen and elastin in our skin. The destruction of collagen (which makes up to 75 percent of our skin) and elastin (a protein in connective tissue that allows the skin to resume its shape after stretching or contracting) leads to the loss of skin’s strength and elasticity, thus causing wrinkles and sagging, leathery skin. And if aged skin wasn’t bad enough, studies show that UVA exacerbates UVB’s carcinogenic effects and may induce some skin cancers, including melanomas. UVB, the burn ray, affects the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) and is the main cause of skin cancer. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, kills about 8,000 people each year. UVA rays stimulate the melanocyte cells (located in the bottom layer of the skin) to produce the brown pigment melanin, aka a suntan. So the next time you compliment someone’s post-Caribbean vacation glow, keep in mind their suntan is actually a sign that their skin’s been injured.

Q: What’s the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?
Sunscreen is classified as chemical, while sunblock is physical. Sunscreen absorbs and reflects the ultraviolet radiation, while sunblock physically block both the UVA and UVB radiation from the skin. Sunblock is made of either titanium oxide or zinc oxide. Some common active ingredients in sunscreens include aminobenzoic acid (PABA), avobenzone, oxybenzone, homosalate, cinoxate, and octyl salicylate. Suncreen takes about twenty to thirty minutes to really penetrate skin, which is why you need to apply it at least half an hour before sun exposure.

Q: How much sunscreen should I be using?
Always be generous when applying sunscreen. You should see a film a first wherever you apply it, before it sinks into skin. Always apply at least one ounce, about the amount in a shot glass, to cover all exposed parts of the body. Always store sunscreen in a cool, dry place, and it should remain stable and at its original strength for almost three years. But the truth is a bottle of sunscreen shouldn’t last that long. If you have the sunscreen left over from a year ago, you are not using enough!

Q: How often should I reapply?
The American Academy of Dermatology says to reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days. But if you are doing any activities that involve sweating or swimming, you should be reapplying more often. These are a number of mechanical actions that remove sunscreen. These include swimming, drying off with a towel, and perspiring.

Q: What areas of my face and body should I be hyperaware of protecting with sunscreen?
A lot of people neglect their chest, neck and décolletage. That’s an important area to cover because the skin here is very thin and there’s no direct muscle that it attached to. Another area you want to slather with SPF is the backs of your hands. They are one of the first spots on the body to show aging. There’s not much a dermatologist or plastic surgeon can do for you once you’ve damaged the skin on your hands.

Expert Advice: How to outsmart the sun’s harmful rays

“I take the window seat on airplanes just so I have control over the shade – making sure it’s always down to block the sun. I always walk on the shady side of the street and my car has dark tinted windows.”
Dr. Fredric Brandt

“Wear a shirt or a surfer’s rash guard over your bikini, even if you are wearing sunscreen.”
– Peter Thomas Roth

“I always keep a big sun hat in my car just in case I get a flat tie in the middle of the day and have to wait outside for help.”
Leslie Blodgett

Beauty Secret:
“In the summer when my skin is dry or sunburned, I apply olive oil to it. It’s a trick I learned from my Spanish aunt.”
- Dany Sanz

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