If you aren’t intimidated by all of the acronyms associated with sunscreen, then my floppy straw hat is off to you. Even as a beauty professional I completely understand how labels like SPF, UVA, UVB, PA+++ (yes, that’s a real thing) can leave your head spinning. When boiled down, these terms confirm that without a protective shield between us and that big ball of fire in the sky, we are prone to skin damage, wrinkles and even skin cancer. Scary right? Let’s break down what you really need to know so you can start saving your skin now.
The Best Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
SPF 30 is the best coverage according to The American Academy of Dermatology. Usually, higher numbers don’t add more protection and anything lower doesn’t get the job done. When it comes to lips, face, neck, hands and body, get in the habit of always using SPF 30 to achieve maximum sun protection.
However, not all SPF 30 is created equal. Always pay attention to ingredients and shy away from products that are full of chemicals. The most natural and effective ingredient in SPF should be Zinc Oxide. For instance, Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer SPF 30 sunscreen is infused with Sunflower Shoot Extract to preserve cell energy, Astaxanthin to protect DNA, Raspberry Seed Oil, (nature’s most powerful sunscreen) for intense moisture and healing. Look for similar ingredients when picking out SPF to leave your skin healthy and protected naturally.
The Gruesome Twosome: UVA and UVB Rays
The sun’s harmful rays fall into two categories: Long wave ultraviolet (UVA) rays and short wave ultraviolet (UVB) rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin’s thickest layers. Exposure without protection can result in premature aging and the suppression of a skin’s healthy immune system
making you more prone to skin cancer. UVA rays are so strong that they will affect you regardless of weather. They can reach your skin through thick clouds and even glass windows. So while you may think you’re safe sitting at the wheel or next to an office window without SPF, UVA rays’ strength prove otherwise.
Short wave ultraviolet (UVB) rays are the ones your mom always warned you about. They burn the superficial layers of your skin making you prone to painful, vacation-ruining sunburns. And it doesn’t stop there: UVB rays promote wrinkles by targeting resilient skin cells in an effort to age you faster. I like to think of UVA and UVB rays as those mean girls in high school determined to bully your skin — avoid them at all costs.
How to Avoid Sun Damage
First, abide by the “two-hour rule.” If you are outdoors for any long period of time, sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours to keep your skin protected. It can only keep our skin safe if we use it correctly, so even something as simple as setting a reminder on your phone to reapply is a great precautionary step.
Also, be sure to pay close attention to expiration dates on sunscreen. Most sunscreens are good for a solid year when stored in a dry, cool place. Keep it out of a hot car, that’ll end it’s life-span much quicker. If there’s no expiration date on the bottle, take a second to write the purchase date on the bottle in permanent marker to ensure you stay protected.
How to “Undo” Bad Skin-Sun Habits
If you’re reading this and thinking, “But, I already have sun-damaged skin!” — don’t worry. A proactive approach from here on out is a step in the right direction. Paired with a combination of a great exfoliator, moisturizer, concealer and even a lightening cream, consistent use of SPF can begin to reverse those areas of damaged cells.
Whether dry or oily, exfoliating your skin on a regular basis will slough off the dead skin cells and help regenerate your skin’s texture and radiance. Try incorporating a gentle but effective exfoliant like Aveeno’s Skin Brightening Daily Scrub into your skincare regime three times a week.
Your face is thirsty — and while that may sound strange, hydration is imperative to your skin’s ability to “glow”. A great moisturizer will prevent wrinkles and further effects of stress on your skin. For those who want to reclaim problem areas, get used to slathering your skin twice a day. If your moisturizer is SPF 30 then it’s perfect for your skin, pre-makeup. If not, make sure you add it to your current moisturizer routine before applying foundation.
If you need a quick fix use long-wear concealer. My secret weapon for lightening sun-damaged skin is Estee’ Lauder’s Double Wear Concealer. The coverage won’t come off until you wash your face. When shopping for a long-wear concealer look for any liquid or stick variety that provides coverage for 12+ hours. The consistency should be thin but formulated well enough to cover everything. If you have tried it all and still have damage that won’t improve, see a dermatologist. They can prescribe a variety of medicated brightening creams to address specific needs.
The Truth about SPF in Makeup
And let’s just do away with the make-up myth that the SPF in your foundation is enough. The small amount listed in your foundation or powder will not keep you safe from the sun’s harmful rays. In actuality, our face needs a large almond sized amount of SPF 30 applied daily. While it’s great and convenient to have a little extra in a cosmetic product, it should by no means be considered the end-all for your defense against the elements. Above all–stay lathered, my friends.