Most of us have got the message that sun protection is vital, but we're still not getting it quite right. How many people do you know that have sheepishly confessed to having got themselves a sunburn recently? Clearly we need to increase our SPF intelligence. Here's some advice from the experts:
Do you have any sunburn horror stories? Share with other readers in the comments section on the next page!
1. Wear more or higher SPF. "Most people apply SPF 15 too thinly to get actual SPF 15 protection, so I recommend SPF 30," says Dr. Nowell Solish, medical director of cosmetic dermatology at Espada Medical Spa in Toronto. "Use half a soda-capful for face and neck, one capful for each upper limb and two each for back, torso and lower limbs." Be sure to give attention to the nose, ears, hairline and the back of the neck. It's also important to wait 15 to 20 minutes before swimming.
2. Re-apply regularly. To some, a high SPF of 45 or 60 makes them think they can stay out in the sun all day without re-applying. "Sunscreens lose effectiveness after exposure to the sun," advises Dr. Kucy Pon, dermatologist and special consultant to Olay. "Re-apply every three hours if you're going to be outside for an extended period of time."
3. Avoid the sun's strongest hours. "The sun's rays are most dangerous to the skin between 11 am and 4 pm," says Dr. Danielle Marcoux, consulting dermatologist for Ombrelle. "If you can, plan outdoor activities before or after that stretch of time, or be extra vigilant with SPF application and re-application."
4. Wear SPF on cloudy days. "On cloudy and even rainy days there is still sufficient UVA and UVB exposure to cause skin damage, including a sunburn," warns cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett of DLK on Avenue in Toronto. "Regardless of weather conditions, always wear sunscreen to ensure that your skin is protected."
5. Be aware if you are more vulnerable to sun damage. Be extra careful if you're expecting (the sun can aggravate pregnancy mask or melasma); using anti-acne medication, whether orally or topically; or have had or are regularly having anti-aging cosmetic procedures such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels or IPL (intense pulsed light). "These treatments all remove the top layer of the stratum corneum, making skin even more vulnerable to sun damage," explains Dr. Paul Cohen, director of the Rosedale Dermatology Centre in Toronto.
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6. Protect your lips. "Lip protection in the form of sunscreen has been proven to decrease the incidence of lip cancer," says Dr. Kevin Sliwowicz, director of the Toronto Acne Clinic. "One study revealed that the rate of lip cancer in men, who typically do not protect their lips, was seven times higher than in women who applied lipstick with SPF more than once a day (two or three times per day is necessary best)," he advises. "Lip protection will also decrease Herpes cold-sore infections in those for whom breakouts are triggered by UV radiation, and prevent skin breakdown and infections in climate conditions that dehydrate the skin."
7. Check labels. Some products are not effective at blocking UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB and are responsible for cellular damage that results in loss of elasticity and wrinkles. "Look for recognized UVA filters in the sunscreen," says Dr. Marcoux. Those include titanium dioxide, Parsol 1789 (avobenzone) and Mexoryl SX. "The combination of Parsol 1789 and Mexoryl is particularly good," says Marcoux. "Both are photostable molecules (they retain full effectiveness after exposure to the sun) that absorb UVA rays before they can penetrate the skin."
8. Add a hat to the mix. Consider a hat ideally made of dense fabric with a generous brim that protects the neck and chest from UVA/UVB rays. Some hats will be labeled with a helpful UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) number; Dr. Kellett considers them so important that she offers stylish wide-brimmed (five inches in back, six inches in front) UPF-50 hats for post-procedure purchase.
9. Wear sunglasses with broad-spectrum defense. Wrinkles that result from squinting aren't the only things to worry about when it comes to eyes and the sun. "The human lens (in the pupil, behind the iris of the eye) absorbs UV light," explains ophthalmologist Dr. Sheldon Herzig, medical director of Toronto's Herzig Eye Institute. Prolonged exposure to UV can lead to damage to the lens, cornea and retina. "For example, in the tropics, residents tend to develop denser cataracts (cloudy lenses) and at an earlier age than in other climates," says Herzig. "Unfortunately, some sunglasses do not offer UV protection at all. Check labels before you buy." As well, consider wrap-arounds -- UV sneaks in through open sides.
Now go forth and SPF. Scratch that -- SPF and go forth in good health. And share this list with family and friends. After all, wouldn't it be great to hear that the rate of Canadian -- and worldwide -- melonoma cases has dropped drastically?
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