Today is a cloudy day where I live, but I’ll still put on a moisturizer with sunscreen in it when I go outside. Harmful rays abound even if the sun is behind the clouds. In fact, 80 percent of UV rays make it through the cloud cover. The sun, not time, is our skin’s greatest adversary. While time causes chronological aging, the sun causes photo-aging. The best anti aging skin care is to cover up.
The sun’s rays lead to more than 80 percent of the changes that result in age spots, wrinkles, spider veins, and raised dark spots.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much sun to do it. A New England Journal of Medicine article reported that just minutes of occasional exposure accumulates and over the years will lead to premature skin aging. This is much less than the exposure required to produce a sunburn or even a tan.
So, even when the sun doesn’t appear to be shining brightly, its rays are there, doing their damage.
Photo-aging is primarily concerned with two types of rays. The first type, Ultraviolet B rays (UVB), causes superficial and immediate skin damage by irritating the melanocytes in the bottom layer of the outer skin. Depending on the degree of irritation, we either get a burn or a tan.
A sunburn not only leaves you red as a lobster but damages the skin’s immune system and increases the likelihood of potentially fatal malignant skin cancer, which now occurs in 1 out of 90 Americans.
The second type, Ultraviolet A rays (UVA), penetrate the deeper layers of skin. These rays are a product not just of direct sun but of all natural light. UVA rays can penetrate the skin through glass, clouds, and smog.
So you see there is no such thing as a sunless day — including tanning salons which use UVA rays in the tanning beds.
Of course, the rate of skin damage is not the same for everyone. This is determined by your skin type. The FDA and the American Academy of Dermatology determine these types —
- Type 1: You burn easily, never tan, and have red hair and freckles.
- Type 2: You burn easily but can get a minimal tan. You have fair skin and hair, and blue eyes.
- Type 3: You sometimes burn but can get a light tan. You are dark-haired and probably Caucasian or Asian.
- Type 4: You burn minimally and tan to a moderate brown. You are probably Caucasian of Mediterranean descent, or of African, Asian, Hispanic, Indian or Middle Eastern ancestry.
- Type 5: You rarely burn, and you tan well. You are probably of Middle Eastern, Asian, Hispanic, Indian or African descent.
- Type 6: You never burn. You are probably of African descent, with deep skin pigmentation.
If you are between Type 1 and Type 4, there is no such thing as safe exposure to sunlight. Wear protective clothing, stay out of the sun from 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, and always use sunscreen.
You should know that not all sunscreens are created equal. You need to block both UVB and UVA rays. Look for the term “broad-spectrum” on the label. Broad spectrum means it blocks both types of rays. Products containing zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or Parsol 1789 are broad spectrum.
The minimum sun protection factor — SPF — should be at least 15. Sunscreen begins to work 30 minutes after it goes on, so take that into consideration before going outdoors. Even waterproof sunscreen loses its effectiveness within 90 minutes if you sweat or swim, so reapply liberally.
The bottom line is if you want your skin to be healthy and look good, cover it up. Do not walk out that door without protecting all exposed skin.