Isn’t it amazing that so many of us are conscientious about our heart health, our diets and general physical fitness yet do nothing to take care of our largest and most vital organ; our skin?
Many of us have no idea how much damage we are exposing ourselves to just by going outside on a day-to-day basis. Just because you don’t have a burn doesn’t mean you haven’t harmed yourself. Even when you are out running errands on a cloudy day, you are vulnerable; so to be safe, you should apply an SPF every day. It should be as automatic as brushing your teeth in the morning.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Why wouldn’t you want to give it full protection? Sun protection is also important for dark skin. Just because the incidence of skin cancer is lower in black skin doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The sun doesn’t know you are brown, black, or white. Yes, darker skin does have a little more built-in sun protection than white skin.
Caleb wasn’t diligent about protecting his skin as he should be, and a few years ago he had a face full of freckles. It was corrected with a light laser peel using the MedLite C6 laser—a tool designed for treatment of excess pigment that targets the melanin in your skin—even the spots you don’t see on the skin’s surface. Downtime is minimal, but as the skin heals, all the imperfections of the skin are brought to the surface, which crusts a little before it peels off to reveal clearer skin.
As Caleb’s face started to heal, a strange thing happened. A cluster of dark brown spots suddenly appeared on the left side of his face.
“Yuck! Doc, what is this? How come the left side of my face has so much more pigment than the right side?”
“Well, Caleb, the answer is a lot more simple than you might think. You do drive every day, don’t you?”
“Sure, but not outside in the sun.”
“That’s irrelevant. The sun’s most damaging rays can burn right through your car window. Think about it. If you’re sitting in the driver’s seat on a regular basis, the left side of your face is going to get hit with the most UV exposure, assuming you aren’t using sunscreen on your daily commute.”
He wasn’t. It had never occurred to him that he would need protection inside his car. But seeing what the sun was doing to his skin, and what he would have faced had he not treated his skin, was a good wake-up call. He was lucky one of those dark spots wasn’t melanoma. Now Caleb wears SPF every day. The effects of the sun and the environment on our skin are insidious. And the damaging effects of free radicals—atoms or molecules in the atmosphere (pollution and sunlight) that can cause a chemical reaction on skin cells similar to the rusting effects of oxidizing agents on metal—as well as UVA and UVB rays can linger in our skin for hours after the sun goes down. In a car, beside a window, even when it’s cloudy outside, you are still vulnerable; so when in doubt, apply that SPF. You won’t regret it.
It is never too early or too late for prevention and protection. They are the biggest favors you can do for your skin and your overall health, whether you are 20 or 60. Skin protection must continue over the course of a lifetime. No exceptions. I don’t care how young and beautiful you are, if you fail to protect your skin, even as a child, you’ll see the damage in 5 to 10 years in the form of wrinkles, wide pores, rough patches, and even skin cancer.
How much SPF is enough?
Pay attention to the SPF numbers. A foundation with SPF 15 simply won’t cut it. SPF 20 is sufficient for most people, but if you have lighter skin, or you live in the Tropics, you may need 30, 45, or 60. Apply it every day, even when it’s cloudy, and at least every 3 or 4 hours if you are sweating or swimming. If you’re bald, wear a hat. If you are lying on the beach, which is never a good idea, sit under an umbrella. That overbaked orange peel look is not in vogue anymore, not to mention extremely dangerous.
Many brands of makeup, lipstick, and moisturizer now contain sunscreen, but on their own, they’re not enough. You need that base coat of SPF on your face to greet the day.
SPF is not enough, UVB and UVA Rays
First, we’re going to take a look at the best protection you can buy. Not all sunscreens are created equal. An SPF is not enough. You need a broad-spectrum product—one that blocks not only the burning UVB rays, but also UVA rays—those insidious forces that can penetrate deep below the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, to the dermis, the inner layer of skin that contains blood vessels, glands, and hair follicles.
UVB rays are harmful because they can burn your skin and cause skin cancer and other kinds of sunburn, and they operate between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., particularly on sunny days. That’s why most people think they need protection—to block the burn. But in many ways, UVA rays are worse. They go to work at all hours of the day, in sun, rain, or shine, and penetrate the protective layer of the epidermis, where they can hit blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. Damage, including carcinomas, deep wrinkles, excessive pigmentation, and even a weakened immune system, can show up years later.
But now you can buy full-spectrum sunscreen with Helioplex. Neutrogena and La Roche-Posay make great products with this complex and similar formulations, which are available at most drugstores. I love Neutrogena Face Sunscreen SPF 110 and Lip Balm with SFP 30 personally. Just make sure when choosing a product that it has broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. Sunscreen should also be photostable, meaning it can be stored for several weeks without losing its efficacy. And it should be non-irritating.