Summer always brings a reality check. Although, beach days are worth it, protecting our skin is essential. Here's everything you need to know about SPF and solutions for reversing, repairing and preventing skin damage, hyperpigmentation, sun spots, and dehydration.
THE EFFECTS OF THE SUN ON OUR SKIN
Sun damage plays THE biggest role in skin aging. The UV rays cause the collagen and elastin to break down, making the skin thinner overtime, creating wrinkles, sagging and laxity. When your skin tries to fight UV exposure, it triggers the melanin production, increasing the chances of getting age spots. No one is immune, but the fairer your complexion, the more susceptible you are. Remember, you have to start young to stay young, because at the end, what you will see is the cumulative effect of UV rays eating away at your collagen year after year. As you enter your thirties, damage from your childhood, adolescence, and twenties will start to express itself on the skin.
Sunscreens have come along way from its original, cringe-worthy texture.
The smartest protection against the sun’s aging effects is a mineral or physical sunblock (look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the primary ingredients) over a chemical sunscreen. Diligent reapplication is a requirement for chemical sunscreens (no matter the situation). Don't think that you are covered for the day if you applied a layer SPF 50 chemical sunscreen in the morning. The chemicals degrade so quickly that you have to reapply every two hours.
Make sure to pick your sunscreen wisely because there are also new researches that suggest the chemicals may be doing more harm than good. The chemical reaction protecting you from the UV rays degrades a lot of the chemicals in sunscreen, causing oxidation which creates free radicals, and unfortunately, research is now proving that free radical damage is just as bad as UV damage. Consider sunscreens your No. 1 defence against premature aging.
CHOOSE THE BEST SUNSCREEN FOR YOU
If you know you are going to be outdoors for most of the day, I would pick the sunscreen with the highest SPF possible, because even when the ocean spray starts to wash it off you will still have a 50. That being said, for everyday wear an SPF 50 is totally acceptable, but how do you determine which formula is right for you?
Chemical sunscreens have ingredients that absorb UV light, turn it into heat and prevent it from passing through. The physical sunscreens create a layer on the skin to reflect UV light away from it. If you find ingredients ending in “enzone”, it’s chemical, while components like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide mean it’s physical. While many chemical blockers also contain physical ingredients, if you have extremely sensitive skin or a condition like rosacea or eczema, you should definitely opt for a 100% physical formula. Lesson #2:
An SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number indicates how long you can stay in the sun without burning while wearing the sunblock. For example, if you could stay in the sun for one minute without burning without sunscreen, with an SPF 30 you could stay in the sun for 30 minutes.
Always look for sunscreens labelled “broad spectrum”, meaning they protect against both UVA (cancer-causing) and UVB (sunburn-causing) rays.
The average person applies less than half the amount of sunscreen recommended. So if the SPF gets diluted out, wearing a higher SPF, to begin with, could compensate for that.
Application matters immensely to ensure a proper protection. Physical sunscreens are effective immediately upon application, but chemical sunscreens require at least 15-20 minutes to fully absorb in the skin. That means planning ahead before getting dressed and walking out the door.
Lesson #6: Choosing the Right One for You
For some, an SPF 50 should be the minimum. Especially for anyone who tends to burn easily (like blondes, redheads, people with blue eyes) and anyone who's sun-sensitive due to a condition like lupus or medicinal prescriptions like tetracycline or Accutane. The type of formula you use (cream, spray, stick) will impact how you apply it. With sprays, you should hold it one to two inches from the skin and spray until the area is visibly covered before rubbing it in. Glide your sunscreen stick a few times on the same area before moving on to the next.
Lesson #7: How much should you apply?
For the body, a shot-glass-size portion of sunscreen should be applied, and for the face, a tablespoon. Reapply every two hours (especially if you’re swimming or sweating).
Don't forget to protect your lips, scalp and skin around your eyes (the lower lip especially is at risk for UV damage and the development of skin cancers. For the scalp, use an SPF gel, spray or wear a hat. A weightless heat and UV protectant spray is a great option, especially if you are applying heat to your hair anyway.
For optimal results, layer sunscreen and makeup containing SPF. It is possible to find sun protection in many foundations, concealers, powders, lip products, and more.
Take everything into consideration but at the end of the day, the best sunscreen for you is the one you will remember and want to wear, so pick the one you genuinely like!
Some sunscreens evaporate, so I like to apply a light layer of oil over the sunscreen. Not only will it create a protective layer but personally, I find it creates a more comfortable wear.
Reversing & Repairing
If you do find yourself with a burn, don’t worry and apply some aloe to soothe the area. For a natural hydrating mist, blend some fresh aloe from the plant with rosewater. Keep in mind that there's no quick fix for reversing sun damage. To prevent, reverse and correct damage as it occurs, you need to have a daily effective topical regimen. Look for resveratrol and antioxidants that reverse the sun damage like green tea, coffee berry and yerba mate extracts. Recent research suggests that applying antioxidants right after sun exposure can make a significant difference by preventing free radicals from harming healthy tissues.
If you are spending a lot of time at the beach and in the water, be much more gentle with your skin. Cut back on the exfoliating and let that barrier layer become really lush and thick to protect. Vitamin C can work wonders on hyper-pigmentation, but not every product with the ingredient is created equal. Most products with it are oxidized by the time it gets on your skin. A better option would be to buy it in opaque capsule form and break it open in a carrier that contains no water, like an oil-based serum (because water + ascorbic can create sensitization).
Food can't take the place of regular sunscreen, but adding certain supplements and aliments into your diet can add an extra layer of protection. Omega 3 EFAs (essential fatty acids like chia seed, flax seed and hemp seed oils) can protect against the damaging effects of sunlight by regulating your skin’s inflammatory response.
Anyone dealing with sun damage should also boost their antioxidant intake internally. Antioxidants, like lycopene and other carotenoids, have a protective effect on your skin by decreasing its sensitivity to the sun and diminishing free radical damage. You can find them in all kinds of foods, especially colourful fruits, vegetables and spices like berries, tomatoes, carrots, apples, apricots, turmeric, beets, squash, spinach, dark chocolate, sweet potatoes, olive oil, green tea, tangerines, peppers, beans, peas and lentils. Anti-inflammatory supplements such as astaxanthin, turmeric and curcumin, and drinking green tea are also beneficial. Vitamin E (along with A and C) is also known to be a potent sun blocker that keeps skin supple and protects its top layers from UV rays and other environmental factors. They can be found in many foods, like almonds, sunflower seeds and kale, that gives you 134% and 133% of your daily value of vitamin C and A respectively, and is also one the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that both absorb and neutralize the free radicals created by UV light. Minerals like selenium (that are found in Brazil nuts, button mushrooms, and whole-wheat pasta) may protect your skin from cells that gather free radicals and help prevent skin cancer.
Some of my favourites
Now that you have all the knowledge, go on and enjoy the sun responsively!