Ask the Experts: Safeguard Your Skin Against the Sun

Ask the Experts: Safeguard Your Skin Against the Sun
ESSENCE.COM Jun, 18, 2012

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While it is true that the natural melanin (the pigment that makes our skin more or less brown) in our skin provides some protection—equal to an SPF of 13–16, versus an SPF less than 5 in Caucasians—it doesn’t mean we’re safe. Just going about your daily life can have harmful effects over time—such as premature aging, wrinkles and uneven skin tone. Even driving in your car leaves you vulnerable, as UVA rays pass through glass. And if you have discoloration or acne scars, going without sunscreen may make the spots appear darker. To protect yourself, use a sunscreen that guards against both UVB and UVA rays. “The goal is to achieve a minimum SPF of 15,” says New York City dermatologist Dina Strachan, M.D.

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This treatment shields against infrared damage.


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“Any other notion is false,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital. Still, it’s hard to convince some of us. A study conducted last year by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that more than 60 percent of Black adults never wear sunscreen. And according to a 2009 Archives of Dermatology study, 62 percent of people of color do not believe they are at risk for skin cancer, yet 40 percent of them had been burned by the sun in the past. This line of thinking can be deadly: “Just one severe burn can increase your risk of getting skin cancer,” Gohara states. Awareness is key, especially since skin cancer detection is often delayed in people of color and that can mean the difference between life and death.

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This high powered cream offsets damage caused by UVA, UVB and infrared.


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This light reaches deeper into the layers of our skin than both UVA and UVB rays. Over time it can lead to free radical damage, which has been shown to have a devastating effect on skin-firming collagen. Unlike with UVA and UVB rays, our melanin offers no protection against this type of radiation, nor do traditional sunscreens. Those with acne scars or melasma may notice that the patches seem to get darker even if you go outdoors coated in top-notch SPF. “New research indicates that infrared light which, simply put, is the heat emitted from the sun, plays a major role in the worsening of these skin conditions,” says Lisa R. Ginn, M.D., a dermatologist in Chevy Chase, Maryland. But there is some good news: We may be able to counteract the harmful effects of infrared light by applying an antioxidant serum or a sunscreen infused with a healthy dose of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, advises Ginn.

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The alcohol-free formula leaves skin protected without drying it out.

($36, Walgreens)

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Look for ones made with micronized titanium dioxide or coated zinc oxide—they leave less of a film when applied to skin. Or check the ingredients label for chemical sunscreens such as avobenzone, oxybenzone and homosalate, which won’t leave behind tell-tale white streaks, says Wendy Roberts, M.D., a dermatologist in Rancho Mirage, California. What to avoid: sunscreens that contain traditional formula physical blockers like uncoated zinc oxide and unmicronized titanium dioxide, which reflect rays. These blockers have large particles and tend to sit on top of the skin, giving it an ashy look. “However,” Strachan adds, “these ingredients are considered safer and more natural.”

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Don’t forget to protect your lips, too, on long summer days.

($4, drugstores)

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Ultraviolet light from the sun stimulates vitamin D synthesis in the skin. “Ironically, the more ultraviolet light the skin receives, the more melanin it produces, and the more melanin you have, the less ultraviolet light the skin receives for vitamin D synthesis,” explains Strachan. “This is one of the reasons that African-Americans may be prone to vitamin D deficiency.” To get your dose of vitamin D, the American Academy of Dermatology says to take in adequate amounts of the nutrient through one’s diet—try fish or soy milk—or vitamin D supplements.

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Protects and repair skin with this multi-tasking serum.

($42, Nordstrom)

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This handy cream is a favorite among brown girls because it doesn’t leave an oily film.

($11, drugstores)

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This lightweight SPF doubles as a moisturizer.

($49, for locations)

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To protect yourself, use a sunscreen that guards against both UVB and UVA rays. “The goal is to achieve a minimum SPF of 15,” says New York City dermatologist Dina Strachan, M.D. Unfortunately, most people don’t apply enough product to get the full effect. Use the recommended minimum of SPF 30, so even if you under apply, you’ll likely hit the benchmark of SPF 15. Reapply every two hours or right after getting out of the water—not doing so diminishes the effectiveness.


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