Here Comes the Sun

How to properly protect from the sun and reverse age damage

By Kerry Guice

How to choose the best sunscreen
 

We’re in the thick of another hot Arkansas summer! As a kid, that means splashing around in the pool playing “Marco Polo” until their fingers look like raisins. As a parent, it means juggling pool toys and beach towels, wondering if the pool counts as a bath, and chasing the kids down to apply sunscreen before they jump in. We all know that protecting our skin from the sun is important, but with statistics that show that the country’s melanoma rates have tripled in the last 30 years, are we choosing the right sunscreens? Are we reapplying often enough? Are the ingredients in the typical sunscreen safe?

WHICH SUNSCREEN IS THE SAFEST?

Dr. Lindsay Enns with Dermatology Group of Arkansas recommends choosing a “physical” sunscreen made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. “These minerals sit on top of the skin, forming a barrier against the sun’s rays, and start protecting right away. Chemical products, on the other hand, need to be applied 15-20 minutes in advance to give the skin time to absorb them. They may cause irritation or allergic reactions because the skin absorbs these active ingredients,” she said. Oxybenzone is a controversial active ingredient many brands are starting to avoid based on research that shows it may be a hormone disruptor, and that it can damage coral reefs when dispersed in the ocean.

“You may have heard you should look for ‘broad spectrum’ products that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide will do this,” Enns said. When looking for a sunscreen, many people base their choice solely on the SPF (Sun Protection Factor). The higher the better, right? Dr. Enns says not necessarily. “The SPF should be at least 15, but you generally don’t need to go higher than 30. Over that and you’re getting smaller and smaller amounts of added protection, which in a chemical sunscreen also means a higher dose of unwanted chemicals.”

WHAT ABOUT SPRAYS?

Companies are constantly trying to come up with marketing techniques or formula changes that will give them a leg up on their competition. Sunscreen sprays have become increasingly popular because of the convenience, but in terms of safety and protection, Dr. Enns suggests to “Stay away from sprays!” They are generally chemical based, rarely provide the same protection from UV rays and it’s difficult to tell if you’ve used enough product. “There are some concerns about the safety of these sprays, since [the chemicals] can be inhaled while spraying,” she said.

Reapply sunscreen often, even if the label reads “waterproof.” Dr. Enns warns not to trust a label that promises to protect you for eight hours. “That’s only accurate if your child stays perfectly still for the whole day! In the real world, he’ll need sunscreen every two hours, or every time he is dried off with a towel,” she said. Lather the sunscreen on thick, paying attention to burn-prone areas like the face, chest and shoulders. She also suggests keeping babies younger than 6 months out of the sun altogether. “When that’s not feasible, be sure to protect your young baby with sunscreen.”

JUST SAY ‘NO’ TO TANNING BEDS!

It was only 2014 when the Food and Drug Administration finally required indoor tanning salons to display a notice on the tanning bed itself explaining the risks of UV exposure, and we’ve only started seeing a notable decline in tanning bed use in the last 10 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2015 study found that 16 percent of female high school seniors were still using tanning beds.

Fifteen states so far have passed legislation banning the use of tanning beds for children under the age of 18, yet Arkansas is not one of those states. In January of this year, State Rep. Stephen Magie (D-Conway) filed a bill (HB 1280) that would prohibit the use of indoor tanning salons for minors, even with parental permission. In February, the legislation failed to pass with 53 votes against, and 27 in support of the bill. The bill itself clearly stated it would exempt doctors licensed in the state of Arkansas who “use or prescribe phototherapy devices or equipment to a patient of any age.” Regardless, of all the information we currently have, we still have a long way to go to help prevent future skin cancer diagnosis here in our state.

CAN WE REVERSE SUN DAMAGE?

For those of us who are in our 30s or older, who remember applying baby oil rather than sunscreen, and for those young women described above who are still exposing themselves to potentially dangerous UV levels at the tanning salon, is there a way to reverse any of it? Natalie Sanderson, esthetician at Lasercare Skin Clinic in Little Rock, offers a few options that may help.

“Depending on the individual patient’s skin condition, laser skin treatments are often the most effective at reversing sun damage,” she said. Pigmented Lesions Laser Treatment can help eradicate the damage the sun and the aging process it has created. Excess sun exposure contributes to a number of cosmetic problems, especially pigmented lesions, which appear as dark spots and sun spots. This laser treatment eliminates the sun damage and improves the skin tone. Sanderson recommends a minimum of four monthly sessions. However, she notes that laser treatments should be done in the fall or winter, as any treatment for sun damage, including over-the-counter skin lightening creams, can make your skin exponentially sensitive to the sun.

Facial peels are another way to give your face a fresh start. “Again, we strongly advise against starting a treatment like this when you’re likely to be in the sun often,” Sanderson said. Though these procedures have the potential to reverse your current condition, they don’t prevent future damage. “We all know it’s impossible to avoid the sun, and vitamin D is good for us, but it’s important to stay in the shade as much as you can, and rehydrate your skin with aloe every time you come in from an extended period in the sun, whether you’ve gotten a sunburn or not,” she said.

Sunscreens We Love

Beautycounter
*Available in a lotion, a body stick and a small face stick (perfect size for purse/ sports bag).
*Goes on smooth and sheer.
*Free of potentially harmful ingredients—safe for the whole family.
*Zinc Oxide active ingredient, SPF 30.

Blue Lizard
*Dermatologist recommended.
*Specialized formulas for baby, sensitive skin and sports.
*Zinc Oxide active ingredient.