Anti-aging products are a multi-million dollar business, but the best anti-aging product on the market is simple sunscreen. An estimated 80 percent of the changes to skin that we call “aging” are actually the result of sun damage. Sunburns are obvious damage, but what many women don’t realize is that what we may call a luscious tan is actually the visible evidence of our skin’s efforts to protect itself from harm.
Not only could the sun diminish your skin’s good looks, it could compromise your health. Sun damage is linked closely to skin cancer. Daily sunscreen use is an easy preventive measure that will keep you younger and healthier for minimal cost or bother.
The effectiveness of sunscreens is measured in SPF, or Sun Protection Factor. The higher the number, the better your protection. Any sunscreen that doesn’t bear a prominent SPF number is not one to trust, so read the label and make sure you’re getting the strongest protection you can find.
Even the best sunscreen can’t protect you if you don’t use it correctly, though. These five mistakes can sabotage your best efforts to keep your skin younger and healthier.
1. Skipping Days
There’s no such thing as a day too cloudy or wintry for sunscreen. Although UVB rays don’t penetrate clouds, more damaging UVA rays do. They also make their way through glass, water, and the upper layers of skin, so it’s vital to protect yourself from them even on cloudy days.
Sun damage is cumulative. You may not get a sunburn or even a noticeable tan, but that doesn’t mean your exposure won’t reveal itself in the mirror later. Just as you brush your teeth daily to keep dental problems at bay, you should be using sunscreen daily to ward off the signs of aging. If you fret about the expense of going through so much sunscreen, just think of what you’re saving on anti-aging products and dermatologist visits later.
2. Using Too Little Sunscreen
Most sunscreen users skimp on sunscreen. Using too little sunscreen won’t give you the protection implied by the product’s SPF label. According to the Mayo Clinic, people should use about an ounce of sunscreen to cover all unprotected skin. That’s about the amount contained in a shot glass.
At least half a teaspoon of that shot glass should go on your face and neck. The face is one of the few body parts that is exposed to sunlight year-round, and though winter sun may feel good on your face, it still does damage. Half a teaspoon may feel like a lot, but special non-greasy formulations designed for facial skin can encourage you to use the right amount without causing your makeup to slide off.
3. Waiting to Apply Sunscreen
If you’re applying your sunscreen right before you leave home, you’re not getting full protection. Sunscreen doesn’t reach its full effectiveness until it’s been on your skin for half an hour. Make time in your daily routine to apply your sunscreen early. Those few extra minutes of UVA and UVB radiation that you may be getting by using your sunscreen too late could become visible sun damage in a year or five.
Apply sunscreen well in advance of your makeup. The extra wait gives the sunscreen a chance to soak in so it won’t be diluted by cosmetics. It also means your makeup will go on more smoothly than it would over freshly-applied sunscreen.
4. Wearing Light Clothing
Your clothes have an SPF, too. That gauzy summer dress may feel appropriately covered up, but to the sun, you may as well be wearing a bikini. The average t-shirt has an SPF of between 7 and 10, while more loosely woven fabrics have an even lower SPF. By comparison, denim has an SPF of over 1,500. While doing errands on an August afternoon clad in head-to-toe denim isn’t exactly practical (or pleasant), it pays to wear a tightly-woven canvas hat or look for thicker t-shirts.
If you’re wearing light, loose summer fabrics, apply sunscreen to the skin beneath them. You may also want to look into clothing designed to offer sun protection. SPF clothing is treated with colorless dyes that scatter ultraviolet light. They may be a little pricier than other garments, but it’s money well spent.
5. Believing in the Myth of “Safe Tanning”
Some women who would be aghast at the idea of leaving the house without sunscreen consider tanning devices an acceptable alternative. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Tanning beds use the same UVA and UVB radiation that the sun naturally produces. They are no safer than tanning in the sun. In fact, they may even be more dangerous, as users often wear less clothing or sun protection in a tanning bed than they would at the beach. The International Society for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, recently bumped tanning devices up from their “probably carcinogenic to humans” list to their highest-risk category, “carcinogenic to humans.”
The only “safe tan” is one that comes from a bottle. Self-tanning lotions and bronzers can give you a sun-kissed look without risking the appearance and health of your skin in the long term. New formulations look less orange than they used to, but it’s still a good idea to use a light hand and avoid the “Snooki” look. No one wants to be mistaken for a traffic cone.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, Sunscreen: Answers to Your Burning Questions, the Mayo Clinic Staff
MSNBC, It’s a Cloudy Day; Should I Still Use Sunscreen?, Dr. Judith Reichman
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Skin Cancer Prevention
Food and Drug Administration, Indoor Tanning: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays