Sunscreen 101! How to prepare your skin for summer externally and internally.
Summers coming up incredibly quickly here in the Southern hemisphere (I can’t believe its NOVEMBER! – how crazy is that!) so it’s probably the perfect time to talk about the importance of using sunscreen! These days, we are spoilt with choice when it comes to sunscreens. While that’s a good thing, it can also get very confusing. Should we use sunscreen all year round? Do we use the same sunscreen at the beach and then daily, on our face under makeup? Or do we need a separate product for each ‘occasion’? What’s the difference between using chemical and mineral sunscreens? How should we prepare ourselves for the onslaught of summer rays? Let’s get started!
How damaging the sun can be and why we should protect our skin.
For those of us getting ready for the summer season (aka BEACH time!) it’s important to prepare ourselves and our skin both from the inside and on the outside to strong sun exposure. We all know that the effects of the sun can be damaging (eeek – skin cancer!) and premature ageing. Luckily, being sun smart and using sunscreen regularly can help prevent skin cancer from developing (that’s now a FACT thanks to studies done right here in Australia, the skin cancer capital of the world 🙁 )but also protect our skin. Skin ages differently when its damaged by the suns rays. Regular wrinkles form in singular lines, usually thanks to the expression of our muscles, while sun damage (which accounts for 90% of premature ageing) damages your skin differently. It breaks down collagen, making skin less plump and decreases skin elasticity. Because of this breakdown, skin also becomes thiner more prone to damage. Wrinkles appear not in singular lines, but rather like a ‘net’ – think of a dried fruit and it’s crinkled, dry skin… Because UV rays damage DNA, new cells that form in the deeper layers of your skin aren’t the same as they used to be. The production of melanin (cells which produce pigment, giving your skin the colour that it is) also becomes interrupted, causing pigmentation and other nasties. You may also find yourself with ‘broken capillaries’ (little red blood vessels on your nose, cheeks etc). Interestingly enough, capillaries don’t actually ‘break’. What happens with intense sun exposure is that the capillaries are trying to repair the skin and due to cell damage, to many of these capillaries appear. Pretty bleak, no? :S The good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself from damaging UV rays. Of course, staying out of the sun is the best option, there’s no question about it – but its natural that in summer time we want to be outside more. So its a balancing act, staying out of the sun when its the strongest (I believe that’s between 11am and 3pm) and protecting yourself well when you do go out into the sun.
How to get ready for sun exposure – externally.
I would suggest using a two faceted approach, which involves getting ready both internally and externally. Getting ready externally means using the correct sunscreens for the occasion. At the beginning of summer you should use the highest protection SPF you can for your body and face. You should also protect your face during winter with an spf (your body is mostly covered in winter, but that leaves your face exposed).
Mineral/physical sunscreens (like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) are a better option than organic/chemical sunscreens (e.g avobenzone and oxybenzone) for a few reasons. Firstly, mineral/physical sunscreen particles are to big to penetrate into the skin, hence they physically block the suns rays. Organic/chemical sunscreens penetrate into the skin and work by converting UV rays into a less harmful form of energy. Organic/Chemical sunscreens are also less photo-stable than mineral/physical sunscreens.
This is where it can get a little confusing but hang in there! Chemical/organic sunscreens do tend to be more waterproof than physical/mineral sunscreens, so they are a good option for the beach/sporting activities out in the sun. Many dermatologists recommend using a combination of mineral/physical sunscreen and organic/chemical sunscreen when you are going to be in a high sun exposure environment. If you tend to get an allergic reaction from the sun, then this may help your delicate and sensitive skin. If you decide to layer your suncreens, make sure you put on your organic/chemical sunscreen on first as it needs to be applied to clean skin. You then layer your mineral/physical sunscreen on top.
I do prefer to use a mineral/physical sunscreen on a daily basis, under makeup. And I would recommend zinc oxide over titanium dioxide. Why? Well these days the zinc is micronized so your not left with a thick white cream on your skin (which used to be the case a few years ago) working really well under makeup. Studies have shown that even when zinc oxide is micronized, only a minimal number of particles penetrate the skin. Zinc oxide stops more UVA rays (the rays which age your skin – UVB rays burn the skin) than titanium dioxide does. It is thus better at preventing pigmentation on the skin (very important – especially if you are on the contraceptive pill or prone to pigmentation – or if you want to be careful and minimise the risk of pigmentation!).
Does this mean that mineral/physical sunscreens are better at protecting your skin from UVA and UVB rays than organic/chemical sunscreens? No. They each have their pros and cons (depending on what environment you will be in) but all high spf sunscreens, no matter if they are mineral/physical or organic/chemical will block the majority of UV rays. So any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen!
Also, it’s a good idea to find a sunscreen with antioxidants in the ingredient list. They help stabilise the sunscreen and protect your skin from free radicals. Wearing a vitamin C serum under your sunscreen (especially zinc oxide) boosts the sun protection of your sunscreen as it naturally protects your skin from some of the UVA and UVB rays. Wearing a vitamin C serum on its own won’t give you enough protection from the sun, but it is excellent at preventing pigmentation and oxidative damage/stress on the skin. I have seen a sunscreen that claims to be ‘anti ageing’. I take issue with that, because its a bit of an oxymoron. The sun causes damage, so the only way to fully prevent any damage is to stay out of the sun and keep your skin protected. I would also be very wary of sunscreens which contain vitamin A. I would stay far away from them, as vitamin A causes skin sensitivity, especially when combined with UV rays. You don’t want to develop an allergic reaction to the sun!
I bought a couple of new sunscreens for the new season, so I will show you some of my favourites!
Avene Very High Protection Emulsion SPF 50+ – This is a titanium dioxide sunscreen. Titanium dioxide is a lighter than zinc oxide, so I thought that this sunscreen would be perfect for the boys in your life! I gave it to my boyfriend to use as a moisturiser for the day time during summer as he hates the way some moisturises leave him feeling sticky (especially if you get sweaty/hot). This formulation is light enough to provide some hydration, while providing a high broad spectrum sunscreen. It’s for normal to combination skin and is non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t block pores). It leaves your skin slightly matt, perfect for those sticky, humid summer days. It comtains vitamin E (to fight against free radicals) and pumpkin seed which helps regulate sebum. It also contains the famous Avene thermal spring water, which is soothing and hydrating. It’s water proof and suitable for sensitive skins.
Bioderma Spray Solaire (Sun Spray) High Protection, Sensitive Skin, SPF 30+ – I bought this spray sunscreen because while wearing sunscreen under makeup on everyday basis is a good idea, we often forget about other parts of our body which are exposed in summer on a daily basis. I bought it to use on my arms and décolletage (chest area) in particular. The skin on your decolletage is very thin and delicate, so sun damage becomes especially visible here. I wanted a ‘lighter’ sunscreen for these parts of my body, and something without an overpowering ‘sunscreen’ scent since I want to use it regularly. This spray sunscreen is perfect. It’s a chemical based sunscreen, very light in texture, sinks in quickly, and has almost no scent. I don’t think this sunscreen is available in Australia, but I’m sure there is a similar spray sunscreen on the market. There is a lot of ‘dry touch’ sunscreens out there, that don’t feel greasy and are now lighter in texture.
Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen & Primer SPF 30+ – I’ve spoken about this sunscreen before and it’s one of my favourites. It’s a zinc oxide based sunscreen and I use it under makeup. It is on the thicker side, but I’ve gotten used to the texture. It doesn’t leave a white cast on my face and contains quite a few antioxidants such as – organic aloe vera, organic jojoba seed oil, organic cucumber, red algae, organic sunflower oil, organic green tea and organic pomegranate oil. It doesn’t break me out and is quite hydrating at that same time. If you have oily skin, you could definitely skip a moisturiser and use this instead. The website I used to order it from doesn’t stock Suntegrity products anymore (Suntegrity is a US brand) but you can find it at their official website here. They do ship internationally, but unfortunately the shipping fee is quite high ($25 Aus monies I believe). It’s also not the cheapest brand in the world (this sunscreen costs $45 US dollars for 50g), but it does last quite a while. The brand has a great ethos and all their sunscreens contain high quality ingredients.
Once I run out of this pump bottle, I was thinking of going back to Invisible Zinc, which is another zinc oxide based sunscreen. You may have seen it at the supermarket as its an Australian brand and they have some great products on offer. I have used their environmental skin protector before, but as any skin care product enthusiast I wanted to also try something different, hence the Suntegrity sunscreen took its place. It does make sense to go back to it, as I won’t have to pay for postage and it also contains 20% zinc oxide (as does the Suntegrity sunscreen). Here’s a picture of their Environmental Skin Protector SPF 30+ which acts as a daily moisturiser while also containing a high mineral spf. Once I purchase the invisible zinc sunscreen, I will do a full review 🙂 It costs $35 Aus monies if you are wondering, and you can get it at your local supermarket, chemist, Priceline or online at Adore Beauty (who have free shipping on all orders).
How to get ready for sun exposure – internally.
Now this is something that isn’t spoken much about here in Australia. I’m not sure why, as it’s better to use a whole spectrum of UV fighting ‘methods’ and products instead of just one. It’s definitely a secret kept by European ladies! I’m talking about beta-carotene skin supplements. Beta-Carotene (found in carrots) surround cells and protects them from UV damage (especially UVB damage). It also naturally darkens your skin tone, making it more even in colour and honey like. Of course, you shouldn’t rely on these supplements alone, but they do help your skin to look more healthy in summer and more ‘sun-kissed’ without the necessary sun damage. It’s important to start taking these supplements about 3 weeks before intense sun exposure. Often these supplements also contain vitamin E, C and lycopene. You should be able to find them online from European pharmacies. Just make sure you don’t buy them from ebay, or from somewhere that isn’t a trusted source.
Did you know that probiotics help protect skin against pigmentation and burns? But most of all, they have been found to regenerate cells more quickly. Usually after sun exposure, it takes cells approximately 10 days to return to normal functioning, but with probiotics this process only takes four days. You should also start taking probiotics approximately three weeks before intense sun exposure.
There is also foods that can help protect your skin from free radicals and UV damage, however I think I will leave that for another post as this one has become quite long *phew*. It can be a confusing topic, but it’s also a very important one! It’s ironic that in our society, girls who are determined to look ‘beautiful’ by gaining a tan, are most of the time damaging their skin beyond repair making them age much quicker.
Until next time beauty bees! 🙂
Here are some other posts you may have missed in the skincare 101 series:
All About Eye Creams: Eye Care 101
Skin Care 101: Washing Your Face
Alcohol isn’t Always the Bad Guy!
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