The sun sustains life and makes us feel good, but it can be our skin's worst enemy.
While every sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer, it's not just the hot days at the beach you should be wary of. Sun damage accumulates over time, and going out without adequate protection only increases your chances of having to spend your money on expensive anti-aging procedures down the line. To make matters even more complicated, no single method of sun defense will ever protect you perfectly, but you can get pretty close by combining a few.
Why Worry about Stopping UV Damage?
I get it! We all love catching sun rays, especially during the summer. The human skin has an inherent serotonergic system that’s capable of generating serotonin, so getting some sun increases your serotonin and can even help people with anxiety and depression. Besides that, we also generate vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, which plays many roles in the body, including boosting cognitive function and being essential for optimal bone health.
However, with the good comes the bad, and while we can all agree the sun can be extremely therapeutic and good for our body, we also have to understand that there are risks that come with excessive UV exposure. Skin cancer, for example, is the most common form of cancer, and unfortunately, it can be fatal in the worst-case scenario.
Getting some sun increases your serotonin and can even help people with anxiety and depression.
But the best-case scenario isn't ideal either, and it usually involves surgically removing a huge chunk of the malignant area, which most often leaves people with a missing part of their face or body. And if reading this made you squeamish, imagine what the people living with it have to go through every day.
On a lighter note, when not causing skin cancer, the UV rays are busy wreaking havoc in your dermis, directly targeting and destroying the collagen-producing cells, leaving your skin prematurely saggy and wrinkly. Unprotected exposure to the UV rays also causes extreme photoaging of the skin, which is characterized by a coarse, leathery look, discoloration, and uneven patches of pigmentation on the surface.
Stylish Ways To Prevent Aging
Clothing can provide a great barrier against UV rays. It's also one of the most useful ways to protect yourself from the sun since its protection is consistent over time, and it won't wear off through sweating the way sunscreen does after a few hours. Tightly woven fabrics and darker colors offer the best protection, so think of long-sleeved shirts, pants, and skirts when choosing your outfit on a hot day. Jeans may not be a good option because you don't want to melt while walking on the street, but a long and stylish skirt will keep you cool and protect your skin from UV damage.
Tightly woven fabrics and darker colors offer the best protection.
Besides that, some clothes are manufactured and certified under international standards to provide UV protection. So if you want to take your sun protective game to the next level, look for UPF on the labels when buying clothes, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. The number written next to the acronym indicates what fraction of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the fabric. A shirt labeled UPF 50, for example, allows just 1/50th of the UV radiation to reach your skin, which is quite decent.
Wear a Hat
Wearing a hat on a hot summer day will definitely help boost your sun protection and will also protect areas where you don't usually apply sunscreen, such as the ears.
Although dermatologists will advise you to do this, we live in a world where we want our hair to be perfect instead of turning into a greasy mess from applying sunscreen on and around the ears. A hat solves that issue with the added bonus of looking nice and stylish, so you will get the protective benefit while also wearing a comfortable and trendy accessory to compliment your look.
Sunglasses Are Important Too
The same goes with sunglasses, especially those extra-large ones that will make you look like you jumped out of Lady GaGa's "Paparazzi" video. But jokes aside, UV-blocking sunglasses are important for not only protecting your eyes but also the thin, delicate skin around the eyes.
Sunglasses labeled as “cosmetic" usually block about 70% of UV rays.
The ideal sunglasses should block 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays; therefore, always check the label and make sure it says "UV absorption up to 400nm". Sunglasses labeled as “cosmetic" usually block about 70% of UV rays, so this may not be good enough, especially if you spend a lot of time outside during the summer.
Wear Gloves While Driving
Estheticians are easily able to tell your age by just looking at your neck and hands. So no matter how many anti-aging creams you apply or how much Botox and fillers you inject into your face, the back of your hands will give away your age, should you not protect them from UV damage.
The skin on the back of your hands is very thin and is usually among the first areas to show signs of aging, such as thinning, wrinkles, and uneven pigmentation, also known as lentigines or age spots. Therefore, try to either apply high SPF to the back of your hands or take it a step further and wear sun-protective gloves while driving or doing outdoor activities that leave you exposed to the sun for a prolonged time.
Wear a Facial Covering
Facial coverings may look ridiculous and a little extreme for some, but they’re quite popular among people who live in abnormally hot or cold climates.
Facial coverings can protect the nostrils from inhaling cold and dry air as this is often a problem for someone with asthma, and besides causing shortness of breath, it can also trigger an attack of bronchospasm.
Facial coverings can be a good option for people with inflammatory skin conditions.
People who are hiking or doing any sort of outdoor activity in hot climates opt for wearing facial coverings because they protect their face and neck from burning and discomfort.
Lastly, facial coverings can be a good option for people with inflammatory skin conditions such as severe acne, eczema, or contact dermatitis and whose skin is very sensitive to sunscreens. To make sure you’re best protected, opt for a facial covering with a dark color.
Avoid Peak Sun
If you’re running errands outside during summer, try to avoid being out and about during peak sun intensity hours, especially between 11am and 4pm. This is when the UVB, which are the burning rays, are the strongest, and you have the highest chance of getting burned if you’re not protected with sunscreen.
However, if you absolutely can’t avoid being out during this time, try to walk on the shady side of the street, sit under a sun-protective umbrella, or even under a tree. But bear in mind that shade isn't a perfect shield as some UV rays can still reach your skin in various ways, including passing through leaves and branches, as well as through reflecting off water, glass, and concrete.
Consume an Antioxidant-Rich Diet
Diet can also play a role in how we adapt to our external environment throughout the seasons, and sadly, it’s probably the most overlooked part.
You probably know that eating in-season produce is healthier, cheaper, and tastes better. But I bet you didn't know our favorite summer fruits are also the ones that help protect us from a hot environment and high UV rays, too. For example, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, and watermelon are summer fruits packed with potent antioxidants such as lycopene and vitamin C.
And what do lycopene and vitamin C do for our skin? They fight against UV-induced free radicals, repair the skin, and help it become more resilient against UV damage, according to a 2012 study.
Summer fruits are packed with potent antioxidants such as lycopene and vitamin C.
Our meals can also play a role in our "skin clock," according to Joseph S. Takahashi, Ph.D., chairman of neuroscience at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. In his 2017 study, Takahashi and his team discovered that an enzyme responsible for repairing UV-induced damage to the skin has a daily cycle of production that can be affected by eating food at unusual times. Takahashi notes that if you have a normal eating schedule and eat a good meal in the morning, then you will be better protected from the UV rays during the daytime.
If you have an abnormal eating schedule, such as eating very late, this could cause a shift in your "skin clock" and affect the skin's ability to protect itself from UV damage. So it turns out that eating a meal packed with antioxidants early in the morning can actually increase your skin's ability to protect itself from the damaging sun rays.
Every esthetician, dermatologist, and skincare professional will tell you that prevention is a lot easier than a cure. So, by simply choosing to protect your skin from UV-induced damage, you will reap the benefits of resilient, healthy, and beautiful skin that doesn't know age.
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