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How to Protect Your Skin From the Sun All Season Long
Stay safe under the sun.
by : Emily MacCulloch- Jun 7th, 2023
TORY RUST/GALLERY STOCK
The summer season offers up some of our favourite things on a golden platter: music festivals, park hangs, sandy beaches and that glisten your skin gets from just the right amount of sweat and sunshine. But with the warmer weather comes more damaging UV exposure as well as frizzy and fried chlorine-soaked hair. Not to worry, though: We’ve got all the tips you need to protect yourself from head to toe, from the ultimate primer on everything SPF to pro advice on how to heat wave-proof your mane.
Although sunscreens have come a long way from the non- blendable pastes of the past—and our knowledge about just how crucial it is to slather them on year-round has moved ahead by leaps and bounds—for some reason, many people are still hesitant to make SPF a stand-alone step in their daily routine. But wearing sunscreen is a non-negotiable since exposure to ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) causes DNA damage to the skin, which leads to premature aging (think fine lines, wrinkles, sagging and hyperpigmentation) as well as a drastically increased risk of skin cancer. Thankfully, protection is easy once you’re equipped with the right tools, and with so many award-winning formulas at your fingertips, there’s no excuse for not wearing it on the reg. To help you find your best-ever SPF, we asked two of Canada’s top dermatologists for a crash course on all things sunscreen.
Play The Numbers
When selecting a sunscreen, keep in mind that the higher the number on the bottle, the better the protection. “If you’re spending a day in the sun, I generally advise that you apply an SPF of 50 or higher,” says Dr. Christina Han, dermatologist, XYON medical director and director of dermatology at False Creek Dermatology in Vancouver. One reason she recommends a higher-level SPF is that, on average, most people won’t apply the amount of sunscreen required to get the level of protection on the label. “Most people applying an SPF 50 are really getting about an SPF 25 due to under-application.” Therefore, going with a higher number offers a bit of a protection buffer.
Brush Up On Your Bottle Knowledge
If you look at a sunscreen label, there’s a lot of information, and, let’s be honest, it’s confusing. Dr. Alia Bosworth, medical and cosmetic dermatologist at Luma Clinic in Halifax, shares a few key pointers that will help demystify those details.
- Broad spectrum coverage
Look for the “Canadian Dermatology” logo and the words “broad spectrum”; the latter means that the sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. “This is why most dermatologists advise looking for a broad-spectrum sunscreen—usually indicated by ‘UVB + UVA’ (with the UVA in a circle)—to ensure adequate protection,” says Bosworth.
- Tinted versus non-tinted formulas
Both types of sunscreen will protect the skin, but if you’re prone to hyperpigmentation, Bosworth recommends trying a tinted SPF. “Tinted mineral sunscreens contain iron oxides, and they help filter out part of the visible light spectrum, which can play a role in some conditions, like melasma.”
- Check the expiration date
Always look at the expiration date on a bottle, whether you’re shopping for a new SPF or about to apply one from last year’s stash. “I don’t advise using sunscreen that’s past its expiration date, as the product can break down and you may not get the same efficacy,” says Bosworth. In order to make the most of your SPF, she advises storing it indoors and away from heat and light.
Coverage Is Key
As we learned from Han, sometimes we’re not applying enough sunscreen for it to properly do its job, and in some cases, we’re missing entire areas altogether. “Most people are good at getting their faces, but often-missed areas include the ears, the neck, the tops of the feet and the backs of the hands,” says Bosworth. Another oft-forgotten spot? The lips. As Han explains, the skin on your lips is more sensitive and can burn easily, which makes it especially important to keep that area protected. “Using a sunscreen specifically formulated for lips can help reduce burning, peeling and, in the long term, precancerous and cancerous changes to the lips,” she says.
Apply; Then Apply Again
For a normal day without a ton of outdoor time or direct sun exposure, Bosworth recommends one application of two finger lengths of sunscreen in the morning on your face, ears and neck. For those who are prone to melasma, she recommends applying twice a day. If you’re going to be spending more time outdoors (say, having an alfresco lunch), sweating excessively (perhaps playing sports) or swimming, she recommends reapplying your SPF every two hours on both face and body. For easy face touch-ups, she likes using powder and stick formulas that can boost protection without messing up makeup.
After a long and glorious day of safely soaking up the sun, it’s important to rehydrate your body and skin with plenty of water. Han recommends hopping into a cool shower to minimize skin inflammation and then layering on some aloe vera or a hyaluronic-acid-based moisturizer to help draw water back into your skin. She advises skipping any potentially irritating exfoliants, like alpha-and beta-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic and salicylic acids), as sun-exposed skin tends to be more sensitive.
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