Everything you already know about sunscreen is still true. You have to wear it, you have to reapply, and sunbeds are just as carcinogenic as arsenic, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. UV rays are bad; shade and SPF, good. But here’s the thing: Instances of melanoma and skin cancer are still on the rise, tanning salons continue to turn a profit, and statistics show that most of us are guilty of delinquent sunscreen behaviour. Protecting your skin from damaging UV rays should be a no-brainer. So how can we finally pick up the habit and keep our skin safe? A closer look at the hard facts reveals a few rules to live by.
Consider antioxidants your second line of defence.
Sunscreen is most effective when paired with preventive antioxidants in your daily skincare routine. “We call it the ‘sweater and the jacket,” explains Dr. Julia Carroll, a dermatologist at Compass Dermatology in Toronto. “The antioxidant is your sweater and you also need to put on your jacket, which is your SPF. You should be doing that all year long.” Introduce as many of these magic molecules to your body as you can to mop up free radicals before they do damage. Look for vitamin C L-ascorbic acid or resveratrol in a serum. You can also add antioxidant-rich foods, such as green tea, grapeseed oil, tomatoes, carrots, red peppers and blueberries, to your grocery list.
Never go below 30.
Sun protection factor (SPF) numbers are attributed in a lab, not in real life. Most SPF values are determined by using a layer of sunscreen that’s almost two millimetres thick “a larger amount than anyone would apply on a given day.” People put one-quarter of the amount that’s tested in the lab,’ says Dr. Carroll, ‘so if they’re only putting on a 15, they’re probably getting about a two.’ Neutrogena, famous for its SPF 100 products, reports that most people apply less than the recommended one ounce of sunscreen all over their bodies, and that translates to less sun protection than what’s indicated on the label.
Look for broad-spectrum coverage.
It’s time to get to know our UV ABCs. SPF only relates to the amount of UVB rays that are filtered out. The past five years have revealed scientific proof that UVA is an even more important factor. “UVB burns you, but UVA is the one that causes skin cancer and ages you,” says Dr. Carroll. The filters in chemical sunscreens that protect you from UVA, such as mexoryl, helioplex and oxybenzone, bump up the SPF into higher numbers ‘sometimes just as a happy accident.” Physical sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium bounce off those UVA rays. You may want to consider whether to choose a chemical or physical sunscreen. The difference is in how it acts on your skin. A chemical sunscreen absorbs light and turns it into heat, while a physical sunscreen reflects the rays.
Give up on that tan, once and for all.
‘A spray tan is a great way to get colour, and a pill is a good way to get your vitamin D,’ advises Dr. Carroll. She warns that there isn’t a single day when we’re not in direct contact with damaging UV rays, which are the catalyst for accelerated signs of aging like wrinkles and age spots and, more importantly, skin cancer. If you think you’re safe inside, think again. UVA rays penetrate glass. ‘I don’t look outside. I don’t see what the weather is, whether it’s raining or snowing or sunny. I just put it on every day without fail.’
Hitting the beach? Apply your SPF, then try a self-tanner, such as Bioderma Photoderm Moisturizing Tanning Spray ($20), for a sun-kissed glow. “Self-tanners are so much better today,” says David Durand, pharmacist and CEO for Bioderma Canada. “We have more knowledge about the technology, so it’s a good compromise for people who are using SPF 40 or higher.”
Luckily, the variations of formulas today mean there’s something for everyone. Choose one that works with your lifestyle and stick with it – every day.