Sunscreen, SPF and Sun Damage: What You Need To Know
Why Do You Need Sun Protection?
As we get older, most of us start to experience fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation on our skin. It’s tempting to just shrug it off as part of getting older. But actually, one of the biggest causes of these is something we see every day: the sun.
The sun gives us a dose of vitamin D, which is great for our bodies, but it also causes photoaging (aka damage to the skin caused by sunlight). As much as 90% of visible signs of aging are as a result of sun damage that you’ve experienced through life. The other 10% is caused by the passing of time.
Skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, or outermost layer; the dermis, or middle layer; and the subcutis, or bottom most layer. The dermis contains collagen, elastin and other fibers that support the skin’s structure. It is these elements that give skin its smooth and youthful appearance — and that are damaged by UV radiation.
The UV radiation that affects the skin is composed of two different types of waves, UVA and UVB. When UV rays hit the skin, they damage its DNA, and cells in the dermis scramble to produce melanin in the epidermis to prevent further damage. This is the process that gives you a tan, which is really just your skin attempting to block the radiation from penetrating your skin.
UVB rays are shorter than UVA rays, and are the main culprit behind sunburn. The UVA rays, because of their longer wavelength, are responsible for a good portion of the skin damage we connect with photoaging. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, where they damage the collagen fibers. This damage causes increased production of abnormal elastin, and depletes collagen - this is what gives sun-damaged skin its leathery appearance.
Should I Wear SPF Everyday?
Wearing sunscreen every day can do more than prevent skin cancer — it can prevent signs of photoaging too. Sunscreen might just be your antiaging weapon. Regular use can stop photodamage for longer. A physical sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide is a great choice as it has broader coverage for UVA rays. You should try and use at least SPF 30.
When people ask us what the #1 thing they can do to prevent signs of aging… we say sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen. Regular use has been shown to keep photodamage at bay for a longer period of time. Dr. Palm recommends a physical sunscreen (containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide), which has a broader coverage for UVA rays. It should be at least SPF 30.
How does SPF work?
Sun Protection Factor (also known as SPF) measures how much UVB protection a product provides to your skin. There is a reason why sunscreen is called sunscreen (and shouldn’t be called a block). It doesn’t actually block everything out, rather it acts as a screen where some UV rays will get through - the SPF factor determines how much. A higher SPF prevents more of the sun’s rays from damaging your skin, however the difference between an SPF 30 (which blocks roughly 97% of UVA and UVB rays aka 3% get through) is only slightly less than an SPF 50 (which blocks roughly 98% of UVA and UVB rays aka 2% get through). The actual difference in protection of anything higher than an SPF 50 is even less.
Here’s some information from the experts on whether a higher SPF really protects your skin more.
While UVB rays are responsible for visible sun damage aka reddening or darkening of the skin, you also need to protect skin from UVA rays which are responsible for the photoaging of the skin. UVA rays are present all year-round, whatever the weather, and can penetrate windows and glass. This makes it really important to choose products with a broad-spectrum sunscreen that shields skin from both UVA and UVB rays (this is not automatic - ya gotta check the packaging).
Synthetic vs. Mineral Sunscreen
Synthetic sunscreens, using ingredients like homosalate or avobenzone, absorb UV radiation in your skin. They need to be fully absorbed into your skin to work so make sure you apply them at least 20 minutes before you go outside. Synthetic sunscreens tend to have a lightweight texture, making them a good choice for combination to oily skin or skin that is prone to breakouts.
Mineral sunscreens, like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, work by reflecting UV radiation as it hits your skin, a bit like a mirror. They work immediately after application, so you don’t need to wait before going outside. If you have sensitive skin, mineral sunscreens are the best choice as they are less likely to cause irritation. However, mineral sunscreen can cause a white cast on the skin, making it a poor choice for some skin tones.
Take some time to work out the best sunscreen for you and your skin.
Top Tips for Caring for Your Skin in the Sun
- Reapply your sunscreen regularly - even sunscreens that claim to last all day should be reapplied every two hours, especially in warm weather or if you’ve been in water.
- Wear SPF on your neck, hands and feet - any body parts that are regularly exposed to the sun will start to show signs of aging (especially your hands). Protect your skin.
- 30 SPF + 15 SPF doesn’t make 45 SPF - SPF levels and how they add up can be confusing. This video explains the differences really well.
- Ensure that you’re applying enough sunscreen - one of the number one reasons for SPF ‘not working’ is that in general people don’t apply enough and don’t apply it regularly enough.
How to Reverse the Signs of Photoaging
If you’re already experiencing signs of photoaging, you’ll want to incorporate skin care products that are designed to reverse sun damage into your routine. Vitamin C and E and green tea are antioxidants that fight free radicals and help to stabilize the skin and help to brighten darker spots caused by sun damage. A retinol used nightly will also boost cell turnover to create a healthy and youthful appearance - beware of sun exposure when using a retinol as it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and damage to your skin. Regular exfoliation 1-2 per week depending on your skin persona or sensitivity levels (take quiz here) helps with cell turnover. Note: As always, if you are experiencing any unusual sensitivity, tightness or any other discomfort… always discontinue or reduce the use of the products.
You may also look towards more in depth treatments such as chemical peels, fillers or anti-wrinkle injections to reduce the signs of aging.
At The Spa Curator we believe in prevention and prefer regular maintenance of your skin and an amazing exfoliation to get the best results! In every facial we include a double exfoliation (enzymatic and granular) to really help with cell turnover, mitigate the signs of aging and sun damage. The Luxury facial is going to give your skin the boost of life it’s craving! If you are experiencing sun damage and hyperpigmentation, we suggest selecting Skin Persona #5 which is going to specifically target uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation caused by the sun! Not sure what’s right for you? Email us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.