Signing up for a microscopic examination of my sun-damaged skin sent ripples of fear through my body. As diligent as I am about my skin and suncare, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that I don’t apply enough sunscreen or use the right formula. My hunch wasn’t far off.
“I can tell by looking at you that you’ve got a lot of damage,” says Jenelyn Bualat, Shoppers Drug Mart beauty expert at Toronto’s Bayview Village, who gives free skin analysis consultations. Her tipoff: The onset of premature forehead wrinkles and blotches of freckles concentrated on my cheeks and nose. Her words were enough to send me running for the skincare aisle.
What followed next was a 40-minute overview of my skin and suncare routine: What I used, what I didn’t, how often I used SPF, how much I applied. At the halfway point, Bualat brought out Vichy Dermascope, an intense magnifier that shows every bit of sun damage you’d like to forget you’ve ever had. We started with my hands, areas I thought were relatively damage-free. Not according to Dermascope. The pen-like device revealed I was a good candidate for sunspots if I continued on my current path of care. Next was my face – specifically my cheeks and nose. Vichy’s supertool not only highlighted my UV damage, but my broken capillaries, premature wrinkling and sun-inflicted skin sensitivity as well.
Fearing the news would only get worse for there, I contemplated making a break for the door when Bualat assured me all hope was not lost. Although she said I can’t turn back time or correct the mistakes I’ve already made, there are things I can do to prevent future problems. The key? Understanding how UV damage happens, how it affects your skin, and ways to combat the damage.
Damage Control: If you don’t want someone else to scrutinize your skin, an in-depth look in the mirror will give you an idea of the damage you’ve done, says Kristen Ma, co-founder of Pure + Simple Spa in Toronto. “Sun-damaged skin has a tendency to look leathery and have a rough texture that isn’t caused by aging or irritation alone,” she says. Tell-tale signs that your skin has suffered: dehydrated patches, uneven tone and thinning areas. TIP: Though you may not immediately see the effects of sun damage, it typically starts to show 15 to 20 years after sun exposure. Although there’s no way to reverse UV damage once it’s affected your DNA, you can help rejuvenate skin with lasers and light sources that help produce collagen.
How are wrinkles started?: Skin cells that have been damaged by UV rays are thought to create free radicals, says Toronto dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett. Because free radicals are highly destructive molecules missing electrons, they replenish themselves by stealing healthy electrons. When this happens in excess, it damages tissues and cells and ultimately causes a loss of collagen and elastin, accelerating the formation or wrinkles. The way to combat this loss is with antioxidants, which repair cells and neutralize problematic ones. Find them in fruits and vegetables, skincare products, and vitamins A, C and E. TIP: Once cooked, some fruits and vegetables lose their antioxidant effects.
UV rays, revealed: The sun produces three different types of light: visible, infrared and ultraviolet (UV). UV rays carry the most energy and are invisible, making them the most harmful. There are three different types: UVA, UVB and UVC.
How SPF works: Sunscreen can be divided into two categories: chemical and physical. Chemical versions employ ingredients like cinnamates, benzophenones and salicylates that absorb into skin and fend off UV light. Physical sunscreens sit on the surface of skin and contain ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to reflect, block and shield it from UV rays. Many sunscreens are a combination of both these types of ingredients.
TIP: To be safe, choose a product with broadspectrum coverage. Pay attention to the ingredient list, though. Some products claiming to be broad spectrum may contain more UVB protection than UVA. To make sure you have adequate UVA coverage, look for blockers containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
One sunscreen fits all?: Not quite. Because we all have different skin tones and types, not all sunscreens work for everyone. If you want a fast-drying, less-oily option, Kellett recommends gel-based formulations. Those with sensitive skin should look for hypoallergenic versions, which have fewer aggravating ingredients, while those with dry skin benefit from creams and lotions, which supply moisturizing ingredients while warding off harmful rays.
TIP: Want to use the same product on both your body and face? Go ahead. Other than having different consistencies (body formulas tend to be thicker than those made specifically for the face), they offer the same benefits.
But how much is enough?: According to Kellett, the whiteness of the lotion should still be apparent, preserving the SPF level. “The problem with this is that few people are comfortable sporting that much visible sunblock,” she says. The best way to stay covered without looking pasty: choose less-visible gel formulas. The general rule: Use about four tablespoons of sunblock for your entire body.
DIY Skin Protection: Small steps can have a big impact. Check out these easy ways to stay protected: · When you don’t have time to reapply SPF, throw on a sun-shielding shirt, jacket or hat. Check out nozone.ca, sunprotectiveclothing.com or tilley.com for stylish ways to stay covered. Before applying moisturizer in the morning, load on the sunscreen. “The most important thing you can do for your skin is protect it. Putting SPF on before moisturizer gives it an added layer of defense,” says Kellett.