We all know the basic tenets of protecting our skin from the sun-use sunscreen, don't log long hours poolside, wear a hat at high noon. But sometimes, abiding by these simple rules still results in pink skin, and worse yet, exposure to cancer-causing rays. Skin protection is a little more complicated than it appears. With summer readily upon us, here are 10 tips to keep your skin looking healthy, this season and beyond.
1. Go for Broad Spectrum Coverage
The current system of ratings we all see on sunscreen-Sun Protection Factor (SPF)-measure the ability to protect against ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) but not ultraviolet A radiation (UVA). Although UVB is the main culprit behind sunburns, both types contribute to skin cancer and premature skin aging. Shirlene Jay, MD, a Torrance-based dermatologist and owner of South Bay Dermatology, suggests consumers look for sunscreens labeled "broad spectrum," which protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
2. Know Your SPFs
SPF measures how long a sunscreen works. For example, if it takes 10 minutes for you to develop a sunburn without any protection, a product with SPF 15 will protect you 15 times that, or 150 minutes. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. And even if you don't burn easily, it's a good idea to look for higher numbers. New FDA regulations will require sunscreens that are SPF 2 to SPF 14 to have a warning stating they have not been shown to prevent skin cancer or early skin aging.
3. Reapply, Reapply, Reapply
One reason it's easy to end up with painful pink shoulders is that we forget sunscreen doesn't last forever. Reapply sunscreen about every two hours and more frequently if you're on a long run or taking multiple dips in the ocean. Even water- and sweat-resistant sunscreens have their limits. The stated SPF only lasts for around 40 or 80 minutes, depending on strength.
4. Cover with Clothing
You may not want to spend your day at the beach wearing a black sweater, but on hikes, bike rides and other outdoor activities, tightly-woven, dark knit clothes are a good way to add another layer of protection. Some companies also offer clothing with SPF protection; Dr. Jay recommends the brands Sun Precautions, Solumbra and Coolibar.
5. Protect Your Peepers
You don't have to dole out a pretty penny to protect your eyes. "Cheaper sunglasses can still give you good protection. Look for labeling that offers 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB protection; also make sure it protects against HEV (high energy visible light), which can cause macular degeneration," says Dr. Jay.
6. Don't Discount Those Cloudy Days
Clouds and fog only partially block UVB rays, and UVA is always present during daylight hours. Even if the forecast calls for overcast skies, sunscreen is still a smart choice for outdoor activities.
7. If You See a Short Shadow, Seek Shade
The sun's rays are strongest during the middle part of the day, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The AAD recommends seeking shade if your shadow appears shorter than you are.
8. Healthy Glow?
Sun-kissed skin may look good, but in reality, there is no such thing as a healthy tan, says Dr. Jay. She likes to remind her patients that because sunscreen is not 100% protective, you can still get a tan when using a good sunscreen.
9. More Than Makeup
Many types of makeup now contain sunscreen, but don't let a powdered nose go unprotected. "I think it's fine to use on a daily basis; however, if you are out in the sun for any prolonged period of time (greater than 20 to 30 minutes), I recommend a sunscreen and not just a makeup with sunscreen in it," says Dr. Jay.
10. Be "Sun Smart"
It's clear that relying on one method of sun protection often falls short. Especially in sunny places like Southern California or in high-altitude mountain areas, Jay recommends being "sun smart" during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This includes using sunscreen, using enough, reapplying, using sun protective clothing and hats, and seeking shade when possible.