Why You're Likely Using Sunscreen Wrong
As my in-shop sunscreen collection grows, I thought today would be the perfect day to explain to you why "sunscreen is one of the most, if not the most important item in your skincare routine," and why chances are you're not using it correctly.
Now, despite being an over-discussed skincare topic, it's still somehow the most neglected piece of skincare advice, and more often than not, sunscreen is being misused, which causes a false sense of security. So please sit down, grab a drink of choice, and maybe a mask because you're about to get a crash course on sunscreen, so you apply it like a pro.
First things first, sunscreen helps protect the skin against the harmful effects of UV exposure that cause DNA and cellular damage. UV exposure causes premature aging by damaging collagen and elastin, making up the dermis structure that keeps skin firm, plump, and resilient. It may also cause and heighten the risk of precancerous cells and skin cancers developing over time.
FACT: 90% of premature aging is caused by UV exposure resulting in visible fine lines and wrinkles, sun damage, loss of laxity, crepey skin, leathery texture, and more. This is why I'm seriously dumbfounded when I see people invest in extensive skincare routines that promote age prevention and pigmentation correction. Yet, every day, they seem to think that sunscreen is optional or should only be applied when needed. This is seriously like pouring water into a glass full of holes! It's not going to be productive at helping you get what you want. YOUR SUNSCREEN IS PART OF YOUR SKINCARE ROUTINE! It's not a distant, far-off cousin; it's part of the central family unit!
Now, this will blow your mind, approximately 75% to 80% of the UV damage we get in our life happens by 18. So while you may think your youthful skin shows zero signs of photoaging, remember that sun damage is underlying. It isn't necessarily visible at a younger age, at least not without a UV camera, so it's easy to believe your invincible. But trust me, that sun damage will surface more and more with age (most commonly, this begins to make its first debut in your mid to late-30s). And while sun damage isn't completely unavoidable, you can seriously reduce accelerated aging and risk of skin cancer by applying sunscreen daily starting young and continuing to do so throughout your life.
And let's throw in one last fact for fun, tanning is a visual sign your skin is giving you that it's trying to protect itself. So while a sun-kissed glow looks amazing, it's a warning sign and defense mechanism in your skin against the harmful effects of UV.
Time to review the basics, UVA and UVB rays, and why you should know what they do to your skin.
UVA (AKA The Aging Ray) is potent year-round and penetrates through clouds and windows. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that if you're anywhere within several feet of a window, the rays will reach you. They penetrate deeper into the skin (315-400 nm) to the level of the dermis. Skincancer.org states, "A 2015 study published in Science found that UVA damage can start in less than a minute in the sun. The damage to the skin's pigment cells (melanocytes) actually keeps developing hours after the sun exposure ends. Melanocyte damage can lead to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer." UVA harms epidermal cells and damages collagen and elastin, making up the dermis' structure. This leads to accelerated and premature aging. About 95% of UV rays that reach the ground are UVA rays.
UVB (AKA Burning Rays) has shorter wavelengths than UVA and penetrates the skin's epidermal layer (280-315 nm). UVB causes sunburns, damages DNA, and causes other changes in skin cells. UVB rays cause most skin cancers, but they can also contribute to skin aging prematurely. They're primarily blocked by glass and are more likely to be filtered by clouds (but trust me, that doesn't mean you can't burn on a cloudy day). About 5% of the UV rays that reach the ground are UVB rays.
Fun Fact: There are also rays known as UVC (100–280 nm), which are entirely absorbed by the ozone layer; otherwise, they'd cause severe damage to all life forms.
So here's why you're probably misusing sunscreen and what you can do to start applying like a skin pro
You’re not applying it daily.
Regardless of the season or weather, UV rays are present, and while you're less likely to burn in winter, UVA rays are potent all year round and can penetrate through clouds, rain, and fog, leaving you exposed. So while you may think overcast or cold winter days mean you can ditch the sunscreen, you're still entirely exposed to skin damage and accelerated aging.
You're not using an adequate sun protection factor (AKA SPF).
It’s recommended to use a broad-spectrum (meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB) SPF 30 to 50. Anything below isn't quite enough (especially due to the fact most aren’t applying the recommended amount), and anything above (while not a faux-pas), isn't necessarily going to protect you significantly more. For example, SPF 15 translates to blocking about 93% of UVB radiation, SPF 30 blocks nearly 97%, SPF 50 about 98%, and SPF 100 about 99%.
You're not applying sunscreen as directed to get the SPF factor stated on the label.
Research shows that the way sunscreen is applied plays an important role in determining its effectiveness. For example, a study showed that when a group of 16 participants applied their SPF 50, they applied less than required in order to achieve the SPF stated on the bottle. Unfortunately, most people are likely only getting a third to one-half of the SPF protection specified on the label. The correct amount to apply is about 1/4 teaspoon for the face only, 1/2 teaspoon for the face, ears, and neck, and 2 tablespoons for the body. Now, you’re obviously not grabbing your measuring spoons every time you apply, so a good rule of thumb is to use two-finger lengths of sunscreen for the face, and an extra finger for the neck and décolletage (click here for a visual).
You think a single sunscreen application lasts all day.
Your morning application will not last you the day. You must reapply about every 2 hours to stay protected. If swimming or sweating, you may have to apply more frequently. If wearing makeup, you can use something like Colorescience® Sunforgettable Total Protection™ Brush-On Shield SPF 50 (available in four shades), for seamless reapplication.
You think you don’t need to wear sunscreen indoors.
While you won't get a sunburn indoors, UVA rays penetrate through windows. Take inventory of your surroundings. Is your desk by a window? Are you sitting by a window? Stuck in rush hour traffic? Skincaner.org states, "UVA rays, the main cause of premature skin aging, can penetrate glass. If you're anywhere within several feet of the window, the rays will reach you."
You think sitting in the shade means you can skip sunscreen.
As stated above, it will do the same in the shade if it reaches you through windows. Although seeking shade is advised as it does help to filter some UV, it doesn’t block it, and sunscreen should still be used regularly.
You forget to apply sunscreen to the body.
This is especially important during the summer months when we're baring more skin! I can't tell you how many times clients' have reached out with bad sunburns on their shoulders and back because they stopped application at the neck. There are excellent sunscreens for the body available. There's even a new sunscreen in the shop, Colorescience Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Body Shield SPF 50, which you can opt to get in Bronze for a buildable sun-kissed tan. Beyond summer, I still recommend applying to parts of the body without fail, including the hands, neck, and décolletage.
You aren’t protecting your eyes and lips.
Two areas of the face to show some of the first signs of aging, with the eye area developing fine lines & wrinkles and the lip area beginning to lose volume, but little is generally done to protect them against UV damage. But, using your facial sunscreen for these areas isn’t the best solution, as some sunscreens are too rich for the delicate eye area, and last little to no time on the lips. For the eyes, apart from UV-protection sunglasses, I love Colorescience® Total Eye® 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy SPF 35, it provides a fantastic eye formula, concealer, and SPF 35 all in one, and clients seem to love it as much as I do. For the lips, there is Tizo LipTect SPF 45 and Colorescience® Lip Shine SPF 35 (glosses available in four shades), both will help to hydrate the lips while keeping them protected.
You don’t apply sunscreen because you think it blocks your vitamin D intake.
The Skin Cancer Foundation states, “Prevailing studies show that people who use sunscreen daily can maintain their vitamin D levels. One of the explanations for this may be that no matter how much sunscreen you use or how high the SPF, some of the sun's UV rays reach your skin. The truth is, it doesn't take much sun exposure for the body to produce vitamin D. Even committed proponents of unprotected sun exposure recommend no more than 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to arms, legs, abdomen, and back, two to three times a week, followed by good sun protection. That minor amount of exposure produces all the vitamin D your body can muster. After that, your body automatically starts to dispose of vitamin D to avoid an overload of the vitamin, at which point your sun exposure is giving you nothing but sun damage without any of the presumed benefit. The thing is, even just those unprotected 10 or 15 minutes are way more than enough time to cause DNA damage, and every bit of this damage adds up throughout your lifetime, producing more and more genetic mutations that keep increasing your lifetime risk of skin cancer."
You're investing in skincare but skipping on the sunscreen.
Ok, so technically, this isn't a direct "misuse" of sunscreen. But the lack of it while spending time and money on your skin is one of the BIGGEST mind bogglers to us as skin professionals. For example, aging and pigmentation are two highly prominent skin concerns significantly impacted and accelerated due to EVERYTHING I speak to in this blog. People will invest in quality skin care and facial treatments to prevent or improve these conditions. But then they will not wear sunscreen or "kinda" wear sunscreen, maybe just a morning application, and that's it. So the skincare being used to treat these skin concerns is effectively working against the fact you're not protecting yourself from one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason these skin concerns are happening to begin with! THEY HAVE TO GO HAND IN HAND.