If I had a nickel for every time I was told "but the sun is good for me!", I would be able to afford the entire Tom Ford Beauty line. It's a little scary to think that, despite all of the cold hard facts and continued evidence proving that the sun is bad for us, we still aren't listening. To help you get through the summer wrinkle-free and sans-sunburn, the professionals give us their top tips on how to apply sunscreen, what level SPF to use, and why it's so important to stay safe in the sun. —By Phillip Picardi (@pfpicardi)
Why the Sun is the Enemy:
"Sun exposure causes a breakdown in collagen and elastin which causes wrinkles and other changes from photoaging—sagging, wrinkles, dullness, and loss of elasticity," says Dr. Vermen Verallo-Rowell, founder of VMV Hypoallergenics.
Adds Dr. Robert J Friedman, a clinical professor at NYU School of Medicine and the chairman & CEO of MDSolarSciences, "UV radiation plays a large role in the development of skin cancer."
And, for good measure, Valerie McMurray, founder of Soleil Organique, adds, "Exposure to UV rays damages langerhans cells, which are responsible for triggering immune function and activating lymph nodes when foreign substances are detected. This prevents the body from properly maintaining its defense systems."
BUT, the myths are true—the sun is good for you. But protecting yourself won't prevent you from a healthy amount of sun exposure. Still, city-dwellers and non-jetsetters might benefit from a little extra comfort of a Vitamin D3 supplement.
What You Probably Don't Know:
The FDA has recently changed the rules around sun protection—banning the labeling of products with numbers higher than SPF50. That's because anything above 50 actually has a marginal, if any, difference on the protection of your skin. McMurray gives the breakdown:
"SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB radiation, SPF 30 blocks nearly 97%, and SPF above 50 blocks 98%."
A lot of formulas have been updated for efficiency, so it might be wise to ditch last summer's tube and shop for a new one. But all this research also prompted another discovery.
"SPF only measures protection against UVB rays," says Dr. Verallo-Rowell. "Often—not always—higher-SPF products provide a broader range of protection not just in the UVB range, but also in the UVA. UVA and Visible Light (VL) are less immediately noticed, but can be more deadly. They don't cause sunburn, but instead cause chemical reactions in the skin. They also augment photodamage that can, in time, lead to skin aging, hyperpigmentations, cancer, and immunosuppression.
Just in case you're wondering, Visible Light, which can worsen hyperpigmentations, comes from halogens, fluorescents, and computer screens. "Enough dangerous UVA rays get through windows and windshields to be worrisome," the Doctor adds. Even if you're at the office, you're still at risk.
With all this in mind, Dr. Verallo-Rowell created the VMV HypoallergenicsArmada line, an excellent, noncomedogenic (and vegan) sun protection range. For daily use, most experts agree that SPF 30 is the way to go.
Why You're Probably Doing It Wrong:
"To evaluate SPFs, testers apply two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. In everyday life, most people apply from .5 to one milligram per square centimeter. Consequently, the actual SPF they achieve is approximately 1/3 of the labeled value," McMurray says.
This could be another sensitive to up your SPF Level—even if it is to a 45—for daily protection. And when you're outside frequently, especially on vacation or in the water? "Reapply every two hours."
But I'm Sensitive!
Unfortunately, a lot of women avoid SPF for a very simple reason: It ruins their skin. You've probably noticed redness from wearing a daily SPF, or maybe even acne. "Quite a few sunscreens cause acne because they contain comedogenic ingredients—waves, oils, emulsifiers. Others have actives with large molecules that clog the follicle pores," says Dr. Verallo-Rowell.
Other no-no's for you sensitive types are: perfume, dyes, preservatives... and even the chemical ingredients that block the sun.
"Try mineral-based sunscreens, which are non-comedogenic, to avoid irritating acne or rosacea," suggests Dr. Friedman. His Mineral Creme with SPF 50 is ideal for a summer vacation while staying gentle on the skin.
Soleil Organique's range is so safe, it's been adopted by hotels along coral reefs, who have found that the chemicals from sunscreen on vacationers' bodies actually damaged the marine life, causing viruses to replicate in the reefs.
If you're sensitive or acneic and need something gentle enough for daily application, try VMV's Armada Baby 50—If it's gentle enough for the little ones, it should be fine on your skin.
You can shop our favorite SPF products in the gallery below, and stay tuned for a brief primer on SPF makeup with artist Carola Gonzalez.