TBN: Sun Protection Edition, Part 1: All The Facts You Need On Sun Exposure
Updated: May 9, 2019
80 to 90% of what we call 'skin aging' (including all wrinkles, spots, sagging etc.) is caused by the sun.
Do I have your attention now? Good.
In my twenties, I regularly used sunbeds to preserve a light, golden tan. Now, I am back to my very fair skin and forever left with pronounced crow's feet around my eyes that I have to treat with botox, otherwise I look ten years older. My entire body is covered with hundreds of new moles I now have to regularly check to make sure they have not turned malignant. Wait. I have two university degrees. How did I not know about this? The lack of information on the severity of sun exposure is shocking: one in three diagnosed cancers is skin cancer, while 20% of Americans will develop it in their lifetime.
The sun is not all bad news, it actually benefits our health in very important ways. It offers us better bone health, protects us from osteoporosis, it helps heal skin conditions like psoriasis, acne and eczema. It is vital for hormone regulation by boosting serotonin levels (the hormone of happiness) and stabilising melatonin levels (ensuring you get a good night's sleep). It also helps your brain learn more efficiently. It is a major source of Vitamin D, crucial to our immune system.
How much sun do we need in order to get those health benefits? According to the World Health Organization, 5-15 minutes of direct sunlight, on your arms, hands and face 2 or 3 times a week, gives you all the sun benefits your body needs (this is for skin not covered by suncreen or clothing). Any more than that is a burden to your health. The sun causes oxidative stress to your skin and it ages. It causes genes to mutate and develop into cancer.
Another hard fact: there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Any change you see in the colour of your skin is sun damage. The good news is we have excellent products to enjoy the sun safely, we just need to know how to use them.
This is what you need to know in order to be sun-safe:
Wear your high SPF after your moisturiser and before your makeup every morning. Even brief exposure to UV rays (like running quick errands in the middle of the day, working near a window, or driving in the car) adds up to skin damage. I will follow up with a second article on suggested products I love to use. Be aware of your sun exposure within the day; walk and sit in the shade, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses etc.
Anything with an SPF 30 and over, offers very good protection: SPF 30 filters out 97 percent of UV rays and SPF 50 filters out 98 percent. They are almost the same. What does make a real difference is the amount we apply, which is more than we think: one shot glass full for the body per application and about 3ml for the face. In SPF, it's the quantity that matters. When you apply less than necessary, you lower the protection offered. Do not forget to also protect your lips, ears and hands.
If you are exposed to direct sunlight, you need to re-apply your SPF every two hours. If you do not want to apply lotions or creams, then the new sprays that cover you in a fine mist and do not disturb makeup are great for top-ups- just make sure you spray enough product. The follow-up article will include these as well. Reapply immediately after swimming, towel-drying and sweating. Keep in mind that you also get sun damage on a cloudy and cool day. Clouds or wind do not protect you from UV rays.
If you want that deep, golden glow, there are excellent self-tanners out there but they do not protect you from the sun in any way. You must follow the same guidelines on sun protection. Self-tanners do not affect the efficacy of your SPF or vice versa. However, self-tanners dissolve slightly faster when you apply emollients like SPF products on your skin, so reapplication might be required sooner. It's a small price to pay for health, because remember: a high SPF is a must, a self-tanner is not. Before the summer, I will post my top-5 self-tanners- easy to use, streak-free and natural-looking.
When you wear a moisturiser with an SPF 15 and a foundation with the same index, that does not mean you get an SPF 30 protection. SPFs do not add up. Also, always wear a special SPF product. Cosmetics like skincare and makeup may have an Sun Protection Factor, however you never apply the amount needed to get full protection. For example, in order to get the full SPF 50 of the new Maybelline foundation I recently reviewed, you must apply seven times the normal amount of foundation. Bottom line: SPF in makeup is a wonderful bonus, not your sun protection for the day.
You can find the sources for this information below. Certain basics were covered here but I would strongly encourage you to check them out if you are concerned with skin health or if you have had a case of skin cancer in the family.
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