We are surrounded by products that claim to stop, stall, or reverse aging–wrinkle-busting face creams, face-lifting serums, youth-activating ingredients… The truth is, there are only a select few chemicals that have proven effects on your skin and that reduce signs of aging. But the best and most effective product to help you prevent signs of again is not a magical serum or $200 cream. It’s actually a product that’s right at your fingertips.
The #1 fighter of signs of aging on your skin is . . .
Let’s start from the beginning. There are two types of radiation that damage your skin: ultraviolet radiation A (UVA) and ultraviolet radiation B (UVB). UVA causes aging of your skin and accelerates the signs of aging like sun spots and wrinkles. UVB causes sunburns. Both these types of radiation cause skin cancer.
Bottom line, sun exposure is the lead cause of aging for your skin. UV rays cause your skin to wrinkle, discolor, sag, and look leathery. Even a tiny amount of sun exposure–like the exposure you get walking to and from your car–causes these signs of aging. And there is no other product but sunscreen that can prevent damage from sun exposure.
What is sunscreen?
Sunscreens are chemicals that prevent the sun’s ultraviolet radiation from reaching your skin. SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” The SPF level in a sunscreen only protects against UVB rays.
You can reduce your chance for the deadliest form of skin cancer–melanoma–by half by applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15+ daily to the arms, neck, hands, and face.
How should I use sunscreen?
Use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays (“broad spectrum”). You should use a sunscreen daily with an SPF of at least 30. Just a year ago, most dermatologists were recommending daily use of a sunscreen with SPF 15. But people were not applying enough sunscreen to their skin, which meant they weren’t actually getting the protection of an SPF of 15.
So don’t use sunscreen to stay in the sun longer! Since SPF protects you against the signs of sunburn, you may get a false sense of security, get more sun exposure, and therefore increase your chance of sun damage. To cover your body, you should use at least 1 ounce–about 1 shot glass–of sunscreen. You should also apply the sunscreen at least 30 min. before sun exposure to give the sunscreen time to adhere to your skin.
On top of using sunscreen daily, you should wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun, stay in the shade, and always avoid tanning!
What does the SPF number measure?
You can evaluate an SPF number two ways:
1) The number measures how much longer you can be in the sun before getting burned. For example, if it normally takes you 10 minuets in the sun without sun protection to start burning, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would protect your skin from burning 15 times longer–for 2.5 hours.
2) The number measures the percentage of rays that the sunscreen blocks. An SPF of 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. No SPF level will block 100% of UVB rays.
But even if a sunscreen theoretically could protect your skin for more than 2 hours, remember that sunscreen wears off after 2 hours. So no matter how high the SPF, you should re-apply your sunscreen every 2 hours.
What ingredients should I look for in my sunscreen?
You should make sure there is some combination of the following ingredients in your sunscreen: PABA derivatives, salicylates, and/or cinnamates (octylmethoxycinnamate and cinoxate) for UVB absorption, benzophenones (such as oxybenzone and sulisobenzone) for shorter-wavelength UVA protection, and avobenzone (also known as Parsol 1789), ecamsule (also known as Mexoryl), titanium dioxide and zinc oxide for the remaining UVA spectrum.
So there you go! Your #1 protector against wrinkles, age spots, sagging, and skin damage can be found right at your local drugstore or grocery market. It’s not a rare ingredient, it’s not a magical face cream, it’s plain old sunscreen.
Be bright, be beautiful!
Please visit The Skin Cancer Foundation for more information.
Originally posted Jan. 17, 2011