Everything you already know about sunscreen is still true. You have to wear it; you have to reapply. Yet most of us are guilty of delinquent sunscreen behavior. Protecting your skin from damaging UV rays should be a no-brainer. A closer look at the hard facts reveals a few rules to live by.
Consider antioxidants your second line of defense
Sunscreen is most effective when paired with preventive antioxidants in your daily skincare routine. “We call it the ‘sweater and the jacket,’” says dermatologist Julia Carroll, MD. “The antioxidant is your sweater and you also need to put on your jacket, which is your SPF. You should be doing that all year long.” Introduce as many of these magic molecules to your body as you can to mop up free radicals before they do damage. Look for vitamin C L-ascorbic acid or resveratrol in a serum. You can also add antioxidant-rich foods, such as green tea, grapeseed oil, tomatoes, carrots, red peppers, and blueberries, to your grocery list.
Look for broad-spectrum coverage
Sun protection factor (SPF) only relates to the amount of UVB rays that are filtered out, but the past few years have revealed scientific proof that UVA is an even bigger concern. “UVB burns you, but UVA is the one that causes skin cancer and ages you,” Dr. Carroll says. You may want to consider whether to choose a chemical or physical sunscreen. The filters in chemical sunscreens that protect you from UVA bump up the SPF into higher numbers “sometimes just as a happy accident,” Dr. Carroll says. Physical sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium bounce off those UVA rays. While a chemical sunscreen absorbs light and turns it into heat, a physical sunscreen reflects the rays.
Give up on that tan, once and for all
There isn’t a single day when we’re not in direct contact with damaging UV rays, Dr. Carroll says, which are the catalyst for accelerated signs of aging, like wrinkles, age spots, and more importantly, skin cancer. If you think you’re safe inside, think again. UVA rays can penetrate glass. “I don’t look outside. I don’t see what the weather is, whether it’s raining or snowing or sunny. I just put sunscreen on every day without fail.”
Hitting the beach? Apply your SPF, then try a self-tanner. “Self-tanners are so much better today,” says pharmacist David Durand. “We have more knowledge about the technology, so it’s a good compromise for people who are using SPF 40 or higher.”
Luckily, the many formula options today mean there’s something for everyone. Choose one that works for your lifestyle and stick with it–every day.