Here's What You Really Need To Know About Sunscreen

Although I have several patients who are religious about sunscreen, there is a significant number of people out there who don't realize its importance. It's not a summertime-only thing, and it's not just for fair-skinned people. Sunscreen should be a part of your skin-care routine, period. This means daily and year-round — no excuses. It means you apply sunscreen when it's sunny, when there's no sun, when there's a mix of sun and clouds, and when it's the middle of winter. If it's daytime, your skin needs it.

Without sunscreen, your skin is unprotected. It's exposed and naked, and the potential damage is huge. Sunlight emits ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which can lead to sunburns, premature skin aging (wrinkles and sagging skin), brown spots and discoloration, and ultimately skin cancer. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have declared UVR a known carcinogen
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Choosing A Sunscreen
I find that many of my patients express confusion as to what type of sunscreen to use and how exactly to use it. I recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 — again daily, not just when you're on the beach. "Broad-spectrum" indicates that the sunscreen provides protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. 

SPF, of course, stands for "sun-protection factor" and measures protection against UVB radiation. A moisturizer with sunscreen, such as First Aid Beauty 5 In 1 Face Cream, is sufficient for regular daily use, assuming you are spending limited time outside. If, however, you are going to be outdoors for prolonged periods, you need to use a dedicated sunscreen that is water-resistant. "Water-resistant" means that the sunscreen stays effective in water for the time indicated, usually 40 or 80 minutes — but sunscreen is not water-proof.  
Chemical Vs. Mineral 
Chemical sunscreens are chemical absorbers of UVR. This type tends to offer broader protection against UVA and UVB, but the coverage depends on the particular product. They also tend to be more cosmetically elegant — meaning that they blend into the skin more readily than mineral ones. They do need time to be absorbed into the skin, which is why you should apply them at least 20 minutes before you plan to go outside. Of this variety, I like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer with Helioplex

Mineral sunscreens contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which work as physical blockers to protect the skin and act as barriers against the sun's rays. These formulas may be thicker and leave a white residue, as they are not absorbed the same way chemical formulas are. People with sensitive skin may prefer a mineral-only sunscreen, and I also recommend them for those with skin conditions induced by UVR (melasma, photosensitive conditions, or a history of skin cancer).  

There are some good ones on the market now, and I especially like La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral, iS Eclipse Sunscreen SPF 50+ (which comes in tinted options), and Soleil Toujours zinc-based sunscreen mist with SPF 50 (many prefer mist formulas for the body).

Applying Sunscreen
Apply approximately 20 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply every two hours (or as indicated on the label). Apply it after swimming, sweating, or toweling dry. Don't be stingy with the application! People rarely use the amount they actually need to get the protection indicated on the label, so be generous with your sunscreen and slather on a thick layer — more than you think you need. A general rule of thumb is a shot glass of sunscreen for your whole body and a nickel-sized dollop for your face.  
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Committing To Daily Use
A common misconception is that if your makeup contains sunscreen, you don't need anything else. While your foundation may have SPF, it’s probably not enough to offer the right amount of protection. You would need to use significantly more makeup than you normally wear: I'm talking about seven times the normal amount of foundation and 14 times the normal amount of powder.

Also, because you don't always apply makeup uniformly, it's unlikely that you'd get the same amount of protection across your whole face. I've noticed that technology for color cosmetics with SPF is improving (a couple of my favorites are Shiseido Sun Protection Liquid Foundation and Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Serum Foundation SPF 40), so it's possible that newer formulations provide better sun protection, but I still don't recommend relying on your makeup products to deliver all the SPF you need.

Keep in mind that no sunscreen is 100% effective at blocking UVR, so don’t forget to wear protective clothing, seek shade when sun rays are the strongest (typically between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.), and get your skin checked regularly.      
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