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Everyone looks forward to summer days outdoors, but we all know that time in the sun is not without consequences -- sagging skin, deep lines, and ugly brown splotches. But looking older than you are isn't the worst of it. Years of excessive and unprotected sun exposure can also lead to skin cancer. The good news is that it's not too late to protect your skin or to treat the damage that's been done. We asked leading dermatologists for easy-to-employ tactics to help you outsmart the sun and diminish damage it's already done. Here's what to do now to prevent future damage to your skin.1. Choose a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB filters.
This is key, since only products with this distinction give you enough protection against two types of ultraviolet light: UVB, the shorter "burning" rays, are implicated in the development of skin cancers because they cause DNA changes that lead to uncontrolled growth of skin cells; and UVA, the longer-wave so-called "aging" rays, may weaken immune-system cells of the skin and only recently have been recognized as a factor in the development of skin cancer. A sunscreen's SPF is based only on its ability to block sunburn. There are currently no standard requirements for describing UVA protection. However, all SPF 15 or higher sunscreens also provide some protection against UVA. Parsol 1789 (also known as avobenzone), zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide all provide good protection -- check labels. (One new formula that fits the bill: L'Oreal Ombrelle Extreme SPF 40, $8.99.)2. Upgrade to an SPF 30 sunscreen.
With studies showing that most of us don't apply enough sunscreen to get adequate protection, dermatologists now recommend switching from an SPF 15 to an SPF 30 -- at least between April and September when the burning rays (UVB) are strongest. What about facial moisturizers with SPF 15 and higher? While some offer adequate UVA protection -- Olay Total Effects Moisturizing Complex with UV Protection SPF 15 ($19.99) and SkinCeuticals Ultimate UV Defense SPF 30 ($34) are two choices -- many do not. In that case, apply a separate SPF 30 facial sunscreen (oil-free gels are the least greasy), advises Nicholas Lowe, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA School of Medicine and author of Skin Secrets (Sterling, 1999). Give sunscreen a good 20 minutes to bind with your skin before applying anything else. If you sweat off your sunscreen, stash a tube in your bag and reapply. And if you're beach-bound or playing sports, opt for a highly water-resistant formula.3. Tune in to forgotten areas.
Studies show that the nose is often missed when people apply sunscreen. No wonder it has one of the highest incidence rates of skin cancer. Backs of knees and tops of feet are two other forgotten zones, according to Susan Boiko, M.D., member of the American Cancer Society Skin Cancer Advisory Group. Other overlooked spots include the backs of hands -- which often look older than the face as a result. One solution: Apply a hand cream with sunscreen every time you wash up.
Sunglasses that offer UVA/UVB protection are the best defense against such sun-related ophthalmic diseases such as cataracts. You are especially vulnerable if you have blue or green eyes, cautions Mary Lupo, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University, in New Orleans. The safest styles are wraparounds that hug the curves of your face, since rays can sneak around the sides of glasses.5. Wear makeup.
"Foundation is formulated with titanium dioxide, a sunscreening ingredient. Smoothing it over sunscreen offers extra protection," says Deborah S. Sarnoff, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist and author of Beauty and the Beam (St. Martin's Press, 1998). Lipstick also contains titanium dioxide, as well as sun-blocking pigments, which is why dermatologists believe they see skin cancers on women's lips less often -- a good thing, since lip cancers can be particularly aggressive.6. Dress defensively.
Start by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, suggests Lupo. "Baseball caps protect the nose well, but expose the sides of the face." Consider, too, sun-protective clothing, such as those made by SunPrecautions that provide SPF 30 and higher. You might already have clothes with high SPFs in your closet -- loosely fitting, tightly woven apparel made of synthetic, or at least blended, fabrics. Darker colors also filter out more sun than lighter shades do. And just out this spring is Rit Sun Guard ($4.09), a laundry treatment that washes in sun protection of about SPF 30.7. Walk on the shady side of the street.
It's a simple strategy that proves effective over time. Though trees and buildings don't offer much protection against UVA, they do limit exposure to UVB.