Sun 101: The Safe Way To Catch A Few Rays

We’ve all heard dermatologists preach about how the best sun protection is no sun at all, but that’s not really very practical, is it? We’re not big fans of the abstinence-only method here at R29. It is summer after all and you should be outside enjoying the gorgeous weather — and vitamin D.
So, we asked some of the top derms in the country to give us their best, most practical tips for protecting your skin from damaging UV rays. From just how much sunscreen you should be using to how effective those triple-digit SPFs really are, these savvy skin gurus are sharing all of their infinite sun wisdom. And, for those of you who may not have been diligent about protecting your skin in your careless youth, we got them to spill on the best treatments for minimizing sun damage after the fact, too. Welcome to a shiny, happy, new lease on summer.
SPF Decoded
There has been a lot of controversy and confusion over SPF numbers and labeling, which is a big part of why the FDA has created new label laws. "The FDA changed the SPF guidelines so that consumers could clearly understand the risks involved with skin exposure and how to properly protect themselves from the sun's damaging rays," says Dr. Diane Berson, M.D., a New York City dermatologist and Olay Professional Alliance member. "To make sunscreen packaging less confusing, the FDA is requiring manufacturers to identify whether or not their products have broad spectrum protection — protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Years ago sunscreen products only touted UVB protection since this radiation led to burning; however, UVA rays also cause sun damage. UVA rays, while less intense than UVB, can actually penetrate deeper into the skin resulting in sun damage years later."
Okay, but what about all those numbers? Does an SPF 100 actually work any better than an SPF 30? According to dermatologist Dr. Doris Day, that answers is: kind of. "A sunscreen's SPF measures how long unprotected skin can be exposed to UVB rays before burning, compared with how long it takes to burn without protection," she says. "Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would prevent sunburn 15 times longer than if the product weren't used. Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 effectively filters out about 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays, while SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50, 98 percent." Adds Dr. Berson, "If it takes you one minute to burn normally, by using an SPF 15 it will take you 15 minutes to burn. If you take 5 minutes, with SPF 15 it will take you 75 minutes to burn. This length of protection increases more and more as you go up in SPF."
Dr. Day says that those high SPF sunscreens can make a real difference for people with extreme photosensitivity, like those with lupus, people taking medication that increases sensitivity to the sun, outdoor sports enthusiasts who are outside for many hours at a time, or for those whose skin always burns rather than tans. "No one applies enough sunscreen to get the true SPF," she adds. "Even if you’re doing a 30 SPF, you’re lucky if you are getting 10 SPF. So it really depends how much you put on the exposed area."
Clinique SPF 15 Face/Body Cream, $21, available at QVC; Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 100+, $7.99, available at Walgreens; Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Cream SPF 55, $39, available at Bloomingdale's; Sunday Riley Cashmere SPF 30 Sun Defense, $125, available at Barneys.
Photos: Holger Scheibe/Corbis; Via QVC, Walgreens, Bloomingdale's, Barneys
Sunscreen Golden Rules
So just how much should you be putting on? According to both derms you should be applying a shot glass full (we think we can remember that measurement) of sunscreen — this should cover you from top to toe. If you feel you need more, use it, but never use less than that as you won't be properly protecting yourself. Dr. Berson says that you should be wearing sunscreen whenever you are outside, regardless of the weather. "Even when it's late in the day, cloudy, or you're sitting behind a glass window, you're still exposed. This damage accumulates over time and manifests on your skin years later through uneven skin tone, age spots, fine lines, wrinkles, and in some cases, melanoma," she says.
Where most people mess up and get burned is by not reapplying. You should be reapplying at least every two hours, says Dr. Berson, especially if you've gotten your skin wet in that time. In addition to applying that sunscreen before you leave the house, Dr. Day also says you should take a few more preventative measures. "Wear protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat, and seek shade when UV rays are strongest — between 10am and 4pm. Also, be extra cautious when near water, snow, and sand. Finally, don't seek out the sun for vitamin D, rather get your intake via your diet, or at the very least supplements."
Another sticky spot for most people is the scalp. If you've ever burned the top of your head, you know what we're talking about here. You can wear a hat, but Dr. Day says it's also beneficial to spray some clear sunscreen or brush powder SPF on your noggin. There are also a lot of hair care products that now have built-in UV protection. Dr. Day says having a clear part in your hair can also lead to burning (that skin is exposed and not hidden by your hair), so brush your hair back or wear it up if you plan to be outside.
Finally, let's put to rest that whole bit of nonsense about dark skin not being at risk for UV damage. "No skin is immune to sunburn," says Dr. Mona Gohara. "In fact, a recent survey from the Archives of Dermatology showed that 65% of minority respondents were under the false impression that they were not at risk for skin cancer, despite the fact that most of them had burned."
Australian Gold Clear Spray Gel SPF 30, $6.39, available at; Verb Styling Cream, $12, available at Ulta; J.Crew Two-Tone Straw Hat, $38, available at J.Crew; Tom Ford Retro Sunglasses, $425, available at Nordstrom.
Photos: Maria Valentino/MCV Photo; Courtesy of Australian Gold, Verb; Via J.Crew, Nordstrom
We have so many options in this day and age, it can be hard to tell which is right for you. Let Dr. Berson break it down for you: "Different sunscreen delivery methods are great for various skin types as well as personal preference. If you have oily skin and larger pores, gels or clear liquids are great. If you have drier, more sensitive skin you might want to stick with a cream or lotion. Sprays are great for kids, athletes, and men to cover hair-prone arms, legs, chests, and backs. Wipes are also a great option when traveling as you can just stick them in your bag or purse." For wornen with darker skin, Dr. Gohara suggests using a "cosmetically elegant formula that does not leave the skin chalky or white." Her picks? La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid or CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM.
There are also different types of sunscreen you can try: chemical and physical. Says Dr. Day, chemical sunscreen contains special ingredients that act as filters to reduce UV radiation penetration to the skin. These types of SPF are usually colorless and maintain a thin, visible film on the skin. They also contain UV-absorbing chemicals. Conversely, physical sunscreens, also called sunblocks, contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which physically block ultraviolet radiation. Both methods are effective, so it really comes down to personal preference, or if your skin has any sensitivity to specific ingredients.
Colorescience Sunforgettable SPF 30 Brush, $47.50, available at SkinStore; Supergoop! Sunscreen Swipes SPF 30+, $10, available at Nordstrom; La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid Extreme, $23.60, available at; Coola Sport SPF 35 Pina Colada Sunscreen Spray, $32, available at Coola.
Photos: iStock; Via SkinStore, Nordstrom,, Coola
Damage Control
While there is currently tons of information on the dangers of sun damage, that knowledge wasn't as widely published or available a few decades ago, so many of us ran around unprotected and accrued a whole lots of damage. Says Dr. Day, "The sun damage, which causes wrinkles, discoloration, and skin cancers, happens steadily throughout your life. The American Society for Photobiology found that Americans acquire only 23 percent of their sun damage by age 18 and get about 10 percent more every decade after that." What's that mean? Just because you let your skin fry 10 years ago doesn't mean you're a lost cause now. Smear on that sunscreen and protect yourself from further photoaging.
It's important to know exactly what photaging looks like on the skin, so you can figure out the best way to fight it. "Sun damage's effects may appear as long as 20 to 30 years after sun damage first occurs," says Dr. Day. "It is not uncommon to see signs of early to moderate photoaging in your 40s even if you used sunscreen in recent years. Signs of photoaging are broken blood vessels, blotchy and uneven skin tone, and accentuated wrinkles that are part of the face, neck, and chest." In women of color, Dr. Gohara says sun damage manifests a little differently. "Women of color are more likely to struggle with a skin condition called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). PIH results when, in response to trauma (acne, bug bite, rashes, eczema etc), the skin makes more melanin (the substance that gives skin its color), leaving behind brown, blotchy marks. The sun makes PIH worse, especially in women of color. The sun also worsens/contributes to  melasma, which is a brown discoloration of the skin that often results after pregnancy or use of the birth control pill." Fun!
Fortunately, there are some things you can do now, as well, to reverse those signs of damage. For over-the-counter treatments, Berson recommends products with niacinamide, which plumps and evens skin tone, and peptides to help stimulate collagen and repair some of that damage. Her pick: Olay's Pro-X Age Repair Lotion. "I love SkinMedica TNS Essentials Serums," says Dr. Day. "In addition, anyone who can tolerate a retinol should be using one."
For more aggressive treatments, Dr. Day suggests Fraxel, a laser that treats fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation. She recommends patients couple Fraxel with Thermage, another laser, to restore collagen. Dr. Berson says those with severe sun damage should try a combination of light skin peels, intense pulse light treatments, and Botox to reduce redness and blotchiness, improve skin texture, and plump the skin to remove fine lines and wrinkles. Dr. Gohara says women with darker skin need to be extra careful with laser treatments because they can actually cause or worsen PIH. Instead, she says to try milder chemical peels or prescription creams — both under the care of a dermatologist — to get rid of unwanted pigment.
Of course, after undergoing any of these professional treatments, your skin is going to be extra-sensitive to sunlight and more prone to damage, so it goes without saying you should be using at least an SPF 30. As Dr. Day says, "There’s no point [to these treatments] if you are not using sunscreen."
SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum, $247, available at SkinStore; Olay Pro-X Age Repair Lotion with SPF 30, $47, available at Ulta.
Photos: Maria Valentino/MCV Photo, Via MedWow,

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