What is the MOST important skincare secret you need to know for youthful skin? You get a gold star if you said "Protection from the harmful UV rays of the sun!"
Sunlight, specifically UV radiation, is the Number #1 cause of unsightly wrinkles, age spots, thinning, more fragile skin, in short ... dreaded premature aging. Over the years your skin naturally shows signs of aging but accumulated sun damage accelerates the aging process like nothing else. The best way to protect your youthful looks is to live a life protected against the sun's harmful rays.
We all know someone who has made it a life practice of staying out of the sun and is now graced with gorgeous skin. All of us with a history of sun worship are green with envy. Although there is nothing we can do about prior mistakes we can start protecting our skin now. And, for parents reading this article, your kids may not thank you now for training them to live sun safe, but later, when they are adults and looking good, they will be singing your praises.
"Sun prevention is the key to young looking skin," says Dr. Dale Martin, a prominent San Diego dermatologist. "The anti-aging industry with their chemical peels and laser rejuvenation do not hold a bucket in comparison to preventive measures."
So let's get down to the nitty gritty of sun protection. For this article we will be focusing on the face but many of the precautions suggested below also apply to the hands, arms and legs, areas that often show signs of unsightly aging.
A Key point to remember: We all know a mega dose of sun can cause a sunburn ... obvious skin damage. But, did you know that chronic, short, repeated exposure to the sun can cause skin damage too. To date there is no universally accepted study saying how long is too long, but some experts suggest a few minutes is long enough to accumulate sun damage.
I really want to bring home the importance of chronic sun damage since it is such a serious factor in aging and often overlooked. A great example of chronic sun damage can be seen by examining your arm. First, note the sun damage on your hand, then look at the forearm, upper arm and shoulder. The hands are always exposed to the sun, and it shows. The forearms are exposed a little less, and the damage is a little less. The upper arms and shoulders are covered up more often, and skin on those areas tend to be more preserved. To top off this experiment, take a look under the arm, and you will see beautifully preserved skin. Much of premature aging is a function of day in and day out attacks of the sun.
The good news is that living a sun safe life is simple. According to Dr. Martin, reasonable precautions will take you a long way to enjoying the outdoors and keeping your skin healthy and young.
With your beauty in mind, here are some easy to do suggestions:
Sun Precaution #1- As a daily routine, apply sunscreen and wear a sun hat. We aren't focusing here on a big beach day or playing 3 hours of golf. On those high exposure days I am sure you are slathered up with sunscreen and wearing your sun protective clothing. What we are talking about here is protecting against the small, chronic doses of sun you get from doing things like walking from your car to the office, gardening or driving. This damage adds up over time lessening the elasticity of your skin.
Tattoos and Permanent Makeup - For those of you who have tattoos (that includes permanent makeup), protecting from the sun will keep your tattoos from fading. Note - Obviously putting sunscreen over your permanent eyeliner would not be comfortable for your eyes, but applying sunscreen across the eyebrows, arms, etc. would provide UV protection.
Vitamin D - It is impossible to write an article about sun protection without mentioning the sun and Vitamin D. Vitamin D is very important to your good health but the amount of sun exposure is controversial at this time. If you are not an outdoor person, short stints under the mid-day sun may be your only exposure to UVB rays (UVB generates Vitamin D, not UVA). Be sure to consult with your physician about the proper amount of sun for your body. A side note: The EPA suggests getting your vitamin D safely through a diet that includes vitamin supplements and foods fortified with Vitamin D. Don't seek the sun.
Sun Precaution #2 - Not every sun hat is equal. Choose not only a sun hat with a brim of 4" or greater but also a brim that slants downward. A hat is of no help when the sun is low in the horizon. The rays simply go under the hat. A downward angled brim will surround your face giving you protection for more hours of the day. And, baseball caps are definitely out. The only portion of your face being shaded is your forehead.
Sun Precaution #3 - Don't be fooled into thinking a base tan protects you from additional sun damage. According to the FDA, there is no such thing as a safe tan. The tan you see is the melanin pigment migrating to the basal layer of your skin to protect your DNA.
Sun Precaution #4 - Protect from the sun all year round. Both UVB and UVA contribute to premature aging. In the winter months UVB lessens but harmful UVA rays are in full force year round.
Sun Precaution #5 - Beware of sneaky reflective rays. These are the UV rays that reflect off cars, asphalt, water and other surfaces and "bounce" up reaching your face and neck. Wearing your daily dose of sunscreen will help with these harmful sneak attacks. If the amount of reflection is going to be extreme, such as being on the snow or water all day or doing road work, you may want to check out our Full Face Protection section.
Sun Precaution #6 - Make sunscreen the first layer of your makeup regimen. Dr. Martin recommends using sunscreen (both zinc/titanium sunscreen, also called mineral sunscreen, and chemical based sunscreen) as the first layer of your makeup regimen. Next apply moisturizer, foundation, powder, blush and any other colored cosmetics. Some experts feel a sunscreen using zinc or titanium should be applied after all makeup has been applied since that formula reflects the sun rays. Dr. Martin believes the makeup layers over the zinc/titanium sunscreen only enhance the sun protection. Additionally, many high SPF mineral sunscreens also include chemical ingredients in their formulas to reach those high SPF ratings. You may want to consider a moisturizer with SPF ... also a good time saver. (Note: If you are using a topical medication, be sure to consult your doctor on when to apply)
So what if you are wearing SPF 15 moisturizer, an SPF 15 foundation and an SPF 15 face powder; what is the total SPF? I know this may be surprising but the final SPF is 15. There is no accumulative effect. The highest SPF you use is as high as it goes.
Sun Precaution #7 - Don't forget to apply sunscreen to the back of your neck if your neck is exposed. Sun-weakened skin becomes loose and lax. The condition of the skin on the back of your neck affects the more visible front of the neck.
Sun Precaution #8 - Avoid tanning booths. No matter what they say, sitting under a device that emits UV light is going to cause skin damage. Dr. Martin says that he has seen some 20 year old patients who have 50 year old skin because of tanning booths. So pleeeeease stay away from tanning booths.
Sun Precaution #9 - Be especially careful at higher altitudes. It is amazing how fast you get sun damage when there is less atmosphere to filter out harmful UV rays.
Sun Precaution #10 - Regular self and dermatology examinations are important. Many skin cancers are not life threatening, but some may be very disfiguring if they need to be surgically removed. Catch the culprits before they become a problem.
Why grow old before your time? Make sun safety a way of life and enjoy your outdoor life looking good :)