Summer Skin: The Rules Have Changed!

Forget what you may have heard in the past; dermatologists have new advice to help protect your skin from the harsh, dry elements of summer.

woman with sunscreen on beach

Recent research has revealed ways to make your daily sun protection habits even more effective, but unfortunately, many doctors don’t talk to patients about such advice. When Wake Forest School of Medicine researchers recently analyzed 21 years of doctor-visit data, for example, they found that physicians discussed sunscreen in fewer than 1 percent of all appointments. We asked our trusted dermatologist colleagues to share their cutting-edge tips for healthier and younger-looking skin.

Old advice: Use a shot glass’s worth of sunscreen to cover your body.
New Rule: Use the house-painting rule: Apply two coats. Who pours sunscreen into a shot glass, anyway? It’s no wonder we’re notorious for using too little. Research shows that most people apply only 25 to 50 percent of the amount used in testing, which results in an SPF that’s about one third of the one indicated on the label. For better coverage, follow the advice of Steven Wang, MD, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey: “With the first coat, you don’t put on enough or apply it evenly,” he says. “A second coat can fix inadequate application and distribution.”

Old advice: SPF 15 is perfectly fine.
New rule: SPF 50 offers significantly better protection, especially over time. Dr. Wang explains that a sunscreen with SPF 15 allows 7 percent of UVB rays to be transmitted to your skin, while one with SPF 50 permits 2 percent of rays to pass through. This means that an SPF 15 sunscreen allows more than three times as many UVB rays as SPF 50, which makes a big difference when you consider cumulative exposure over months, years, and decades.

Old advice: It’s most important to slather on sunscreen at the beach.
New rule: Applying every day is crucial too. “It’s not just typical ‘weekend warrior’ activities that lead to sun damage,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a dermatologist in Boston.

“Everyday activities like driving and other short, regular exposures contribute significantly.” Dartmouth researchers found that cumulative sun exposure contributed more to nonmelanoma skin cancer and signs of skin aging than sporadic damage (like that burn you got on your annual Florida getaway). This is why it’s so important to apply sunscreen every morning as a habit. Add it to a routine you already have, such as shaving or applying makeup.

Old advice: Wear sunglasses.
New Rule: Make them wraparound, and wear a broad-brimmed hat. Smaller lenses or ones that aren’t a close fit can let through up to 44 percent of UV rays, an American Journal of Public Health study discovered. In a Japanese study, even when sunglasses protected well from the front, UV light still got in through the sides, leading reviewers to recommend wraparound sunglasses or ones with side shields. The hat will protect eyes from UV rays even more.

Old advice: Worry about sun exposure during the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
New Rule: Early mornings and late afternoons can be dangerous too. Yes, UV rays are most damaging to your skin around midday. But a recent study found that long-term exposure of the eye to UV rays—which can cause eyelid cancers as well as cataracts and other eye conditions—occurs early (8 a.m. to 10 a.m.) and late (2 p.m. to 4 p.m.), when the sun’s rays are more parallel to the eye. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around them, even if it’s not super sunny.

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