Being born brown-skinned in rural India and never having learned the importance of sunscreen despite all the sun, I first started using sunscreen at 20.
It’s been a long time (how much time isn’t important!), but not a day goes by when I don’t curse myself for not starting earlier. I could have made my youth last so much longer, at least on the surface.
And the fact that roughly 70% of my patients present with conditions that are either caused by or worsened by sun exposure just adds to my misgivings about the adequacy of only ‘using sunscreen’ as protection against sun damage.
Accepting that the stupid past cannot be changed, I now try to minimize the effects of the abuse my skin went through and still goes through by first and foremost, being totally devout to sunscreens and using tricks to boost the shield from outside as well as inside. Its not really a lot of work, just some handy tweaks to the things you do daily.
If you are just as committed as me in preventing and fighting sun induced skin damage, join me for the ride!
Choose your Champion Well
Juliana (one of us Evening Island's resident) left a question on my previous article on Makeup with SPF that I get very commonly in my daily practice: ‘Which sunscreen to use – Chemical or Physical?’
Though both can be built to same SPF, if you just talk about safety I would go with physical sunscreens because they are just like an opaque sheet that'll reflect what falls on to it thereby providing a wider safety spectrum.
Physical sunscreens are hypoallergenic and safe enough to be used on new born. If it’s good enough for them baby skin, its good enough for us.
But physical sunscreens are traditionally extremely thick in consistency, that is why most of the sunscreens in my cabinet and in my prescriptions are a mix of physical and chemical sunscreens simply because chemical sunscreens are better wearable.
What numbers do I recommend?
There are 2 different rays that crumbles the youth of your skin independently which is why both SPF & PA ratings must be involved.
SPF protects against UVB rays, the kind that causes a sun tan by burning the skin.
PA protects against UVA rays, the kind that penetrates deeper into your skin melting down collagen and should I go any further... basically causes rapid aging and dysfunction.
Anyhow, both SPF and PA ratings have be in check!
In my sunscreen I always look for at least SPF 30 and PA+++ or above, and one that blew me away is Evening Island's latest curation: Isntree Sensitive Balancing Sun Protection+
It is 100% Physical and has a broad spectrum rating of SPF 50 and PA++++ What's mind boggling about the formula is how wearable it is without any percentage of chemical filter involved!
And as if that's not enough, Sensitive Balancing Sun Protection also contains a patented botanical extract called Specalm VG W that reduces the heat caused by UV exposure skin internally while extracts from Jeju Green Tea, Camellia Flower and Centella Asiatica all work to soothe, heal and nourish your skin!
Re-read that again, it sounds like music to my ears.
Quantity is the Hero
The 'correct' amount of sunscreen that is needed to be applied to ensure the protection offered on the label is 2.2mg/ cm2 of your body. Lets simplify it so that you don’t need a calculator and a measuring vessel every time you apply sunscreen
This is what 2 finger amount looks like:
I am all for science, but practicality is our enemy sometimes. So here is a trick - Always choose the sunscreen with highest SPF.
So that even if you don’t apply enough you get a certain level of protection. Say if you buy SPF 50 and apply half the amount you still end up getting a decent protection time roughly around SPF 25.
You can also try double application if that works for you, one layer with half the amount (1 finger), let it absorb for few minutes and then the next layer.
It also minimizes the skip areas if you tend to oversee them in first application. And then reapplication every 2 hours.
Boost your Armor
Let's be honest Sunscreen does create a defense layer but, you and me, we can only try our best to slather on our sun protection as meticulously as possible but unless we own an Ultra-violet camera - uneven application, missing some spots and fade is only natural.
The magic bullet that'll shut the gaps of human error + sad truth of SPF's time limitation is Antioxidants!
As soon as the sunrays hit our skin they release these tiny little monsters called free radicals which damage the supportive fibres of the skin (collagen and elastin) causing skin ageing.
Antioxidants not only prevent formation of these free radicals but can also reverse, to a significant extent, the damage that you skin already underwent. Isn’t that a mouthful ?
To jumpstart your journey to total sun defence with antioxidants, you've got a few options.
You can eat them (resveratrol , CoQ supplements), layer an antioxidant rich essence/serum under sunscreen (with niacinamide , glutathione or vitamin C) or just get a sunscreen with antioxidants if you are a minimalist (Sensitive balancing sun protection has Green Tea (from Jeju.. one of the purest island) which is a very rich source of polyphenols and according to some studies polyphenols have stronger antioxidants than Vitamin C or E!
There are some areas which show sun damage much faster than others and ironic enough we tend to neglect those areas the most while applying sunscreen.
Let's get into the often sun-screen abandoned areas you want to stop forsaking.
Rewind your memory slightly and remember the times you apply sunscreen on your face. Your cheeks, forehead, chin and nose are covered perfectly well. But what about the area where your skin is the thinnest? Your eyes!
If you haven't already realise, the lines around your eyes increases your aging factor by TEN FOLDS.
So 1. don't forget intentionally applying around your eyes, you'll see the difference 1 day of no UV damage to your eye area instantly.
Another area you tend to skip is your jawline but just because it's strong doesn't mean it doesn't need protection.
So 2. make sure your jawline isn't neglected by sharing some of that cheek sunscreen amount with it
And 3. show some love to your lips and ears - they're not super features that are insured against aging and damage
Also remember, don’t use lip-gloss while going out in the sun, since it concentrates the sunrays on your lips (like magnifying glass) - instead use a matte lipstick or a lip balm with SPF.
For memory's sake let me repeat: Eyes, jawline, lips, ears and neck
And last but not the least
‘Prevention is better than cure’.
Avoid direct sunlight, especially between 11 o’clock and 4 o’clock, and don’t apply perfumes to area that are directly exposed to the sun.
An umbrella, a long-brimmed hat, broad sunglasses and protective clothing are indispensable.
This may have seemed like an exhaustive to-do list, so let me just sum it up:
1. Choose sunscreen with SPF 50+ and >PA+++
2. Apply the right amount (2 fingers)
3. Binge on antioxidants to solve human error by layering an anti-oxidant rich product or choosing a sunscreen with strong anti-oxidant capacity. Supplements if you fancy.
4. Do not leave out key areas: around eyes, jawline, lips and ears
5. Dress up and you are golden. And remember shade is your friend.
There you go sunshine, UV rays have not nothing on you ✨
Got a question? Jot it down in the comment section below and I'll do my best to help :)
Dr. Rashmi Singh