Although it might seem like the buzz behind sun safety awareness grows more every year, 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer – the most preventable cancer – in their lifetime. You might be saying to yourself, “It won’t happen to me!” But even a skin care professional can get skin cancer. It doesn’t discriminate, which is why it’s so important to know what’s at risk when you expose your skin to ultraviolet radiation, and the measures you should take to protect it.
Despite increasing awareness surrounding the dangers of sun damage, even devoted skin care users can be in denial about what the sun is doing to them. Here are 4 things I’ve heard clients say about the lengths they go to “protect” their skin – each one is a common case of sun denial.
Sign #1: “I get a base tan so I won’t burn later.”
I hear this one most when I see clients right before they jet off on a sun-soaked vacation. They’ve spent some time laying outside, or even gone to a tanning bed, to get a “base tan” that will provide their skin with what they believe is “healthy” preliminary protection to avoid a burn while at the beach. Wrong!
This misconception stemmed from the false idea that developing a tan provides your skin with natural SPF. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. A tan – base or not – is a sign of injury. Your skin develops a tan as an initial injury response to UV exposure in an attempt to minimize sun damaged skin in the future. Any kind of tan developed is a result of UV damage - it’s a sign you’ve harmed your skin’s DNA and it’s producing more melanin to defend itself.
Think you’re in the clear just because you got your pre-vacation glow from 10 minutes in a tanning bed rather than hours spent in the sun? According to Skincancer.org, “Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.” In other words, no matter how short your stint in the sun or tanning bed is, a “healthy” tan doesn’t exist!
Sign #2:“I apply SPF 100 before I go to the beach so I’m protected for the day.”
A sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how well it can protect skin against UVB rays – the ultraviolet radiation responsible for sunburns. It doesn’t address how long a sunscreen will remain effective on your skin! A day at the beach means your broad spectrum sunscreen must withstand sweat, submersion in water, and rubbing off throughout the day. The FDA recommends reapplying every 2 hours – even if it’s a “water resistant” formula. Using the 1 oz. recommended to protect your entire body, and re-applying every 2 hours means that in a 6 hour trip to the beach, 1 person would use nearly an entire bottle of SPF 30 moisturizer! That means a family needs multiple bottles to stay protected through just 1 day spent outdoors.
For additional protection, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends wearing protective clothing, like wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts, and staying out of the sun between the hours of 10AM and 2PM – the hours when the rays are the strongest. Want more ideas for keeping your skin safe in the sun? Follow Bioelements’s board Smart Skin in the Sun on Pinterest.
Sign #3: “I wear sunscreen! It’s SPF 8.”
Not all SPFs are created equal! As I mentioned before, SPF is a measure of how well a sunscreen can protect skin against UVB rays. There is, however, another kind of UV radiation your skin is exposed to while in the sun. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the dermis to damage the skin and ultimately contribute to premature skin aging. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, up to 90% of visible age signs are caused by UVA exposure! What’s more is while UVB rays can’t penetrate window glass, UVA rays can – one more reason to make sure your skin is protected daily regardless of whether you will be indoors or out. Sunscreens that specify “broad spectrum” on the label, as well as offer an SPF of 15 or higher indicate that they offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
In fact, the FDA has required all sunscreens with an SPF below 15 to carry this warning:
“Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sun burn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
In short, buying a bottle of lotion with “SPF 8″ can’t protect you against the many dangerous effects we know the ultraviolet spectrum of light to have. Look for an SPF higher than 15 and the phrase “broad spectrum” to ensure you’re doing as much as possible to prevent sunburn, signs of premature skin aging, and skin cancer.
Sign #4: “There’s sunscreen in my foundation.”
There are two problems with relying solely on the SPF in your foundation to protect you throughout the day:
- You can never apply enough. SkinCancer.org recommends applying a nickel-sized dollop of sunscreen to the face alone. Would you wear that much foundation to ensure you’re adequately protected? I wouldn’t, and I don’t think many who rely on foundation alone to protect their face from sun damage would either.
- You’re forgetting your body. Two-thirds of sun exposure is incidental. It occurs during daily activities like your commute or running errands, and more than just your face is exposed. Protecting only your face means that frequently exposed skin like the tops of your ears, your hands, arms, chest, and the back of your neck are left completely unprotected for at least two-thirds of the skin-aging, cancer-causing UV damage it will encounter.
Use a moisturizing broad spectrum sunscreen as the last step of your morning skin care routine, applying it to any skin that will be exposed throughout the day. Make it a habit!
When all is said and done, here are the 3 most important things to remember about sunscreen:
- UVA/UVB protection doesn’t cut it! Many ingredients protect against varying wavelengths in the UV spectrum, but only a few provide broad spectrum coverage. Look for “broad spectrum sunscreen” on the bottle to make sure you’re getting as much ray protection as possible.
- You’re not a turkey. So don’t baste yourself with an SPF 8 tanning oil hoping to bronze without burning. You’re still damaging your skin! Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
- Reapply every 2 hours. It’s natural to touch up your lip color or powder throughout the day – why not include your sunscreen? Keep a travel size sunscreen in your purse to ensure it’s on-hand whenever you need it.
Do you know anyone with a case of sun denial? Share this article and save their skin!