Thanks so much to Anna Lise from Complexion Concierge for guest posting today! Her expertise in skin care and sun safety is so important as we head into summer!
In 2013 research out of the UK found that 80% of “aging” is caused by the sun. By observing women all 50 years old, the study found women with 80% sun damage look their age, while those who had 82% looked roughly 3 years older, and those with 78% percent looked three years younger. 2% of photo aging equals 3 years of assumed age added or subtracted from real life!
Photoaging is the medical term describing the damage from UV exposure that occurs silently underneath the surface, slowly, as the skin begins to lose its ability to repair itself. Repeated UV exposure breaks down collagen and impairs the synthesis of new collagen. It tears down elastin fibers (elastic = elasticity). Skin loses its strength and flexibility.
It is difficult to distinguish lifestyle, genetics, or perhaps even just bad luck have on aging. However, researchers seem to agree that “effective use of sunscreen will limit extrinsic aging, but more importantly reduce skin cancer” (Dr. Richard Warren, senior clinical lecturer and consultant dermatologist at the University of Manchester and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust).
But this isn’t news, right? You knew you were supposed to be wearing a sunscreen! The problem: you might not be wearing the right kind of sunscreen.
There are two types of Ultra Violet rays we are concerned with in skincare: UVA and UVB. Both cause the skin to age more rapidly than desired. But currently in the United States our FDA is only concerned with UVB rays. This is a problem because:
In the United States, sunscreens are not required by the FDA to have UVA protection. SPF only refers to UVB. UVA rays are silent and when it comes to skin cancer, potentially deadly.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it is a mathematical equation. SPF extends the amount of time one can be in direct sunlight without burning. If I were to eat lunch on the patio in direct sunlight without any sun protection, it would take roughly 10 minutes before I’d begin to feel feel hot or pink. Wearing a daily moisturizer with an SPF 15 means:
Most days I’m not in direct sunlight for more than 2.5 hours. Also the sun is rarely overhead for more than 2.5 hours. An SPF 30 gets me 5 hours of protection, which is a far better deal if I were planning to spend any length of time outdoors. If I were to spend the day on the beach I would reapply every few hours (and certainly after heavy sweating or swimming) to protect against those burning UVB rays.
UVA rays on the other hand, have nothing to do with SPF, and also come through clouds and windows. They are ever present. Every. Single. Day. Unless you’re living in the Arctic Circle, I believe you’re best served by wearing a sunscreen any time you’re awake.
So what really drives me nuts? Products like this one, from a reputable brand that makes some of my favorite products:
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti Wrinkle Cream with Sunscreen SPF 15
If 80% of wrinkles are caused by the sun, and the UVA rays are ever present even when we’re not worried about burning, how in the world can a cream prevent wrinkles without blocking UVA rays? This product will protect you from burning, but without a UVA protecting ingredient in its Active Ingredient list (titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, Mexoryl SX/ecamsule, and Tinosorb), you are not getting adequate age and cancer prevention.
In the United States you cannot put the words “Broad Spectrum” on a product unless it does, indeed, protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Any product you bring home should protect you from both, whether its a daily moisturizer or a water-resistant beach-specific SPF, like this one (highly recommended by me!):
Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunscreen Mineral Protection Fragrance Free SPF 30
Some people believe that daily application of chemical sunscreen is not healthy for the body. As a skincare professional, I don’t know if we have lived with chemical sunscreens long enough yet to make that call. We do know that sun causes aging. If you are concerned about a chemical sunscreen, look at a physical sunblock, Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Dioxide.
Physical sunblocks are naturally broad spectrum, and most naturopaths agree they are safe to use every day, and on children. The only downside is they can be opaque and thick. Often warming them in your hands can help prevent that ashy look. Physical sunblocks are also great for people who normally can’t tolerate sunscreen, and even the most sensitive of skins. They are my personal preference!
And what about vitamin D? Vitamin D is essential for the body and is only produced via the sun. Not having enough is a serious health issue and vitamin D deficiency is on the rise. But, unprotected sun exposure definitely causes premature aging, and heightened risk of cancer as well. Where is the middle ground?
If this is a question for you, I recommend consulting your doctor to have your vitamin D levels checked on your next blood test. Taking supplements can indeed supplement what the sun naturally brings to the body. And remember too that the skin synthesizes vitamin D all over. So maybe split the difference? I enjoy some sun on my forearms or legs while sipping an iced tea, but I will never, ever, leave my home without a broad spectrum sunscreen on my face and decollate.
In the end, I just want you to know all the facts and empower you to make the best choices possible. If this is overwhelming (and trust me, it can be!), I’m always happy to help!
Thanks so much Anna Lise! For more information on sunscreen and skin health, feel free to reach out to Anna Lise: