Sun Protection – Myths and Mistakes


When a client asks, “If I only buy one product, what should it be?” I always say, “A quality sunscreen moisturiser, and use it every morning. The best way to treat aging skin is to inhibit the major cause of aging!”

Sun exposure is the biggest enemy of the skin. Cumulative sun exposure causes premature aging including deep and crisscrossing skin wrinkling, severe elastosis, many types of hyperpigmentation, benign seborrheic keratoses, wrinkly and sun-damaged cleavage and Poikiloderma of Civatte (the “horseshoe” pattern of red-brown venous-pigmentation on the neck and upper chest). It can worsen rosacea, telangiectasias and diffuse redness. It can cause the giant comedones of solar acne (Favre-Racouchot syndrome), and it is the major cause of skin melanomas – the deadly form of skin cancer.

Let’s examine 10 common myths and misunderstandings that clients have about sunscreens and sun protection.

1. Client: I use sunscreen whenever I am in the sun, but I really don’t get out in the sun much.

Truth: For most people, the majority of sun damage in the skin does not come from direct sun exposure. It comes from casual, ambient exposure to ultraviolet rays over a long period of time. Walking to the car, sitting on the patio, walking the dog and playing with the kids in the yard are all contributors. It is estimated that 80% of skin damage caused by the sun comes from ambient day-to-day sun exposure. Everyone should use an SPF 15 or higher, broad-spectrum sunscreen every morning.

2. Client: I know a lot of sun is not good, but we are all going to age, right?

Truth: Yes, we all age. But someone who practices a lifetime of good sun prevention will have a few expression lines and some minor skin sagging with age. Sun worshippers will have deep and crisscross wrinkling, severe skin sagging and elastosis, leathery textured skin, any number of pigment issues including, but not limited to, dark splotches, “liver spots,” deep freckling (mottling), hypopigmented areas (white spots), wrinkly leathery cleavage and, of course, skin cancers and other growths. The best way to treat aging skin is to prevent it by using a good broad-spectrum sunscreen every single day. It is THE most important step in good skincare. Heat also affects the skin and can contribute to inflammatory reactions and redness issues such as rosacea and telangiectasias. Even with sunscreen on, the heat from the direct sun can cause aging damage.

3. Client: Don’t all sunscreens protect me the same?

Truth: There are two major types of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Ultraviolet beta rays (UVB rays) are short rays that cause sunburn and damage to the outer layers of the skin. They cause the majority of skin cancers. Ultraviolet alpha rays (UVA rays) are longer, more deep-penetrating rays that go into the deeper dermis and cause the majority of the damage associated with premature skin aging, and these rays are also believed to be more associated with melanoma. In order for a sunscreen to be labelled “broad-spectrum,” the FDA requires that the sunscreen must undergo a laboratory test called a critical wavelength test, which measures how much of the UVA and UVB spectrum of light is being filtered. Sunscreens that pass this test are allowed to be labelled broad-spectrum, meaning that they filter a significant range of potentially damaging UVA/UVB rays.

4. Client: I don’t like sunscreens because they are greasy and smell like a pina colada.

Truth: The old “beach screens” of the 60s and 70s often did smell like coconut and often were oily. Today’s advanced science allows the blending of sunscreen ingredients into elegant and lightweight formulations that are wearable and even work well under makeup. Sunscreen ingredients now can be blended in many types of creams, lotions or fluids, and they can vary in weight for various skin types. They can even be blended with good-for-you performance ingredients like hyaluronic acids, antioxidants and ceramides. The sunscreens available in our online shop are Australian made, are elegant, wearable and work well under makeup. These are all very frequent concerns of many clients.  Our ranges are available in different weights and formulations for aging, oilier and sensitive skin, as well as outdoor water-resistant sport sunscreens.

5. Client: I want a little sun, so when I go to the beach I don’t apply sunscreen until I am out for a while. If I start to turn pink, I put on sunscreen.

Truth: By the time you turn pink, the damage has already occurred. This damage will show up at age 40 or so as wrinkles, elastosis or maybe even skin cancer. When the skin becomes inflamed, it produces enzymes called proteases. These enzymes dissolve collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid in the dermis. Every time you get red from the sun or don’t protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, your skin produces these self-destruct enzymes, and some of your collagen and elastin proteins are damaged. Over a period of time, this damage accumulates until it shows up as premature skin aging. You should apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Applying sunscreen after the skin is already red can actually cause additional inflammation or reactivity to the sunscreen product.

6. Client: When I feel like I might be getting sunburned, I go in the water and that immediately relieves the burning feeling.

Truth: Cool water may make sunburned skin less painful, but the damage has already been done. At the point where you feel burned, you should get out of the sun immediately. You would not feel that way if you had put on sunscreen before you went out! Also, the sun’s UV rays can penetrate right through the water and continue to burn your skin. Being in the water does NOT prevent sun exposure. Also, if you are going in the water, the sunscreen should be water-resistant.

7. Client: I did not use sunscreen today because it was cloudy.

Truth: The powerful ultraviolet waves of the sun cut right through clouds, which only filter about 20% of the rays. Theoretically, you can get sunburned in a rainstorm if you stay out long enough.

8. Client: After I burn at the beginning of the summer, then I can tan easier.

Truth: Burning your skin in the sun not only causes painful sunburn, but it also causes permanent damage to the dermis of your skin. This damage can eventually cause skin cancer. Just for the record, a tan is an immune function! It is your skin producing melanin attempting to protect the lower layers of your skin from sun damage.

9. Client: That sunscreen you recommended is very concentrated. It only takes a tiny bit to prevent me from burning.

Truth: Don’t try to skimp on sunscreen! Apply at least 8 dots of it to your face and neck and massage in. And don’t forget the back of your neck and your ears. If you are applying it to your body, it takes a full ounce of sunscreen to adequately protect the average size body, and it should be reapplied every two hours you are in direct sun. By the way, we are not just trying to keep from burning; we are trying to stop long-term serious skin damage that will lead to wrinkles and sagging and “liver spots,” as well as potential skin cancers. Put it on EVERY MORNING!

10. Client: Is sunscreen you sold me last year still good? I just found one in the boot of my car!

Truth: Sunscreen formulas do fall apart in the heat. They also have expiration dates. Throw it out!

We acknowledge the expertise of Mark Lees, PhD, M.S., CIDESCO Diplomate for the content in this article.

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