Rain or shine, winter or summer, sun protection is an absolute must. If you’re not in the habit of wearing sunscreen year-round, Part 13 of our Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook can help convince you. Read on for the best ways to soothe a sunburn, the facts behind sun protection terminology, and how to prevent sun-related conditions like melanoma. You’ll also get skin-boosting tips on how to tan safely and the antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate!
“Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies.” - Frank Gillette Burgess
Think you know all there is to know about smart sun care? You might be missing a few important facts — like the possibility of getting sunburned through car or office windows, the necessity of wearing sunscreen even (or especially) on cloudy days and how to tan safely (hint: no sun exposure involved!). Find out more key tips to protect your skin from sun damage with these helpful FAQs, covering everything from preventing melanoma to faking the perfect tan.
Sunburn facts & treatment
» Q: What is the difference between a sunburn and sun poisoning?
A: Sunburn is an inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or a tanning lamp, while sun poisoning is a severe reaction to sunburn. Symptoms of sun poisoning include “fever, chills, nausea or rash,” according to Medline Plus. If symptoms persist, contact a medical professional.
» Q: Am I at risk for a sunburn on a cloudy day?
A: It’s very common to get a sunburn on partly cloudy days. That’s because we assume that less sun means we’re less likely to get skin damage. As a result, we tend to stay outside with less protection for longer periods of time. In reality, a cloudy day has just as many UV rays as a clear blue sky, so protect yourself daily — regardless of the weather.
» Q: Is it possible to get sunburned in the car if I keep the windows up?
A: Yes and no. While most glass does block UVB rays, the kind of sunlight that causes sunburn, it doesn’t block UVA light, which can cause skin damage like cancer and aging. The longer the exposure, the greater the risk of damage, so apply sunscreen daily, and reapply during long car trips.
» Q: How do I treat sunburn-caused blisters?
A: According to WebMD, small blisters will heal on their own. Don’t pop blisters or cover them with bandages or clothing that may rub against them. But if you really need to, cover them loosely.
» Q: What’s the best way to soothe a sunburn?
A: "Sunburn is really a first-degree burn," California dermatologist Ronald Moy, M.D., tells Good Housekeeping. He suggests the following to soothe a sunburn: Use ice and cold compresses, take ibuprofen or another nonsteroidal pain reliever and apply 1 percent hydrocortisone cream.
» Q: Are products with ferulic acid safe on sunburn?
A: It's best to keep any active product away from sunburned skin until the skin is no longer inflamed. In the meantime, use healing, hydrating products. You might want to try Thalgo Sun Repair Cream-Mask to relieve burning, hydrate the skin and prevent early peeling. Also, any product from the gentle and moisturizing ATOPALM collection is ideal. After your skin heals, you can resume your normal routine.
Sun protection facts
» Q: I’m outside a lot and should probably use sunscreen, but I’m worried it’ll make me break out.
A: Look for sunscreens that are labeled oil-free and noncomedogenic (meaning they shouldn’t clog pores). Using a thick sunscreen on your face that’s meant for the body can lead to acne, but these lighter facial formulas shouldn’t cause any problems.
» Q: I’ve heard that UVA rays don't cause sunburn and aren’t as dangerous as UVB. Is this true?
A: Though UVA rays don’t cause sunburn — UVB rays do — they do trigger photoaging (premature aging like wrinkles and sun spots) and actually penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays. UVA also exacerbates UVB’s effects. In addition, one study found that UVA may be more carcinogenic than UVB rays. Bottom line? It’s vital to protect yourself against both UVA and UVB rays, so make sure your sunscreen contains broad-spectrum protection.
» Q: What does UPF mean?
A: The Ultraviolet Protection Factor or UPF is similar to SPF with sunscreen, except that it’s used to indicate the level of sun protection you get with clothing. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, for example, a UPF of 50 lets 1/50th of UV rays come through the fabric, thereby allowing just 2 percent to penetrate. However, like regular clothes, clothes with sun-protective properties can become less effective after being stretched out, washed repeatedly or when wet.
» Q: How can I get maximum sun protection per day?
A: According to dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D., on Yahoo! Health, boost your sun protection by applying three layers of sunscreen. After washing your face, apply an antioxidant formula to fight free radicals; next, apply a chemical sunscreen, which absorbs UV light; and finally, apply a sunblock with zinc oxide to reflect rays.
» Q: Is it true that we get most of our sun damage before we’re 18 years old?
A: Actually, that’s a common — and dangerous — misconception. According to Prevention magazine, we get about 25 percent of our lifetime sun exposure by 18 years old; the percentage goes up to half by age 40; and then reaches 75 percent by age 60. Regardless of your age, if you’re not practicing good sun care, you’re still incurring skin damage. It’s vital to protect your skin at any age.
» Q: Do I need to wear sunscreen at work if my desk is by the window?
A: According to U.S. News & World Report, UVA rays — responsible for premature aging and some skin cancers — penetrate office windows. So if you’re sitting close to the window, then definitely slather on the sunscreen. More than several feet away? Henry Lim, chairman of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital, tells the publication that it’s not necessary.
SPF & sunscreen facts
» Q: Does sunscreen with SPF 30 offer better sun protection than a regular moisturizer with SPF 30?
A: This is a common misconception, says Jeffrey S. Dover, M.D., adjunct professor of medicine (dermatology) at Dartmouth Medical School, who recommends using products that do double-duty. In an article for the Skin Cancer Foundation, he explains, "SPF is measured by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration]; it’s a standard. So an anti-aging or antioxidant product that has an SPF of 15 is just as good as a sunscreen with an SPF of 15." Try any of these multitasking products in the morning: Murad Perfecting Day Cream SPF 30, Kinerase Daily Defense Cream SPF 30 or Peter Thomas Roth Max All Day Moisture Defense Cream, SPF 30. Still, you might want to buy a separate sunscreen and moisturizer if you have dry skin and find that a combination product isn’t moisturizing enough.
» Q: If my foundation has SPF, do I still need a separate sunscreen?
A: You definitely do, dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D., tells WebMD. Even if makeup contains sunscreen, it’s not enough to fully protect your face from harmful UV rays —particularly if it’s powder makeup. In fact, according to Dr. Baumann, you’d need "14 or 15 times the amount of makeup that a normal person would wear to reach the SPF on the label."
» Q: What criteria must sunscreens meet in order to bear the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recognition?
A: According to its Web site, here are the criteria for the seal: SPF 15 or higher; must validate product’s SPF on 20 people; produce "acceptable test results for phototoxic reactions and contact irritation"; and authenticate claims the product is water- or sweat-resistant. The organization also certifies clothing that has an "ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 or greater."
» Q: What SPF do you recommend? I’ve heard that anything over SPF 30 is the same.
A: Many experts advise using SPF 30 at a minimum, but the differences between SPF values are minimal: SPF 15 blocks about 94 percent of UVB rays; SPF 30 blocks 97 percent; and SPF 45 blocks about 98 percent. So higher concentrations do offer a tad more protection, and you might want to wear them when you’re spending longer periods outdoors (but still reapply regularly).
» Q. Why do experts recommend applying sunscreen when using glycolic acid products?
A. Because glycolic acid is an exfoliant, it exposes new, fresh layers of skin to the sun. These new layers of skin are more sensitive to the sun, so experts advise using sunscreen to prevent damage and premature aging. This is true with other exfoliants as well, like salicylic acid and retinoids.
» Q: Do I need to wear lip balm with SPF?
A: The lips are especially vulnerable to UV damage. In fact, they’re 11 times thinner than the skin on your face and body. Look for lip balm with SPF 15 or higher. The lips aren’t the only place many people neglect to apply sunscreen, however. For more on commonly neglected areas, see our article here and keep your skin safe.
» Q: Is it OK to leave a bottle of sunscreen in the car?
A: Not if your car is exposed to heat. Although sunscreens are typically good for many months, the ultraviolet-absorbing chemicals in sunscreen can degrade under high temperatures, reports dermatologist Jeffrey Benabio, M.D., on The Dermatology Blog. Using a degraded sunscreen means that you’re not getting the original SPF. Dr. Benabio recommends keeping your sunscreen at temperatures no higher than 77°F (25°C). At the beach, store sunscreen in a cooler to prevent it from breaking down in the heat.
» Q: Even oil-free sunscreens make my skin feel oily. Any suggestions?
A: If an oil-free product still makes your skin feel sticky, consider testing a variety of sunscreen formulas, as they all feel differently on the skin — some even absorb excess oil, like Murad Oil-Control Mattifier SPF 15. Also, keep blotting papers with you at all times.
» Q: I'm afraid that any sunscreen I use will just make my acne worse. Suggestions?
A: Opt for an oil-free formula or try a physical sunscreen, which contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Generally, these chemical-free formulas tend to cause fewer reactions. Or try a formula specifically created for acenic skin, like Murad Anti-Aging Acne Moisturizer SPF 20 or Cosmedicine Speedy Recovery Acne Treatment Daytime Blemish Lotion SPF 15.
» Q: What kind of ingredients should I be looking for when choosing a sunscreen?
A: You want to be sure that your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays, so choose a broad-spectrum formula with ingredients such as avobenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
Anti-aging & skin cancer
» Q: How can you prevent melanoma?
A: Because melanoma causes over 75 percent of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Melanoma Foundation, prevention is vital. The main way to protect yourself is to limit sun exposure, according to MSNBC. Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., wear protective clothing and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (with SPF 15 or higher) 30 minutes before heading outdoors.
» Q: Do age spots indicate cancer?
A: No, but they do indicate skin damage, which increases your risk for skin cancer. See your dermatologist right away if your spots get larger or darker.
» Q: How common is skin cancer and who is most at risk?
A: Unfortunately, skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in every five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer. Those with fair skin, light-colored hair, moles, freckles and a tendency to burn are most at risk. If your family has a history of skin cancer, your risk also increases.
» Q: My self-tanning spray leaves a heavy mist in the air during application. Is it harmful to inhale this spray?
A: Sunless tanning sprays are considered safe, but you should still avoid inhaling the mist. According to Sandy Tsao, M.D., of the Dermatology and Laser Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, "Any chemical that's inhaled is a potential lung irritant." If you can, hold your breath and cover your nose while spraying your self-tanner.
» Q: What can I do to get rid of that self-tan smell?
A: Try neutralizing the smell of self-tanner with a homemade essential oil spray. According to the Today Show, you can dilute a few drops of essential oil (try peppermint, eucalyptus or menthol) in a spray bottle and use as a skin refresher after your tan has dried and set.
» Q: I’d like my legs to look tan for a special event, but I’m nervous about applying self-tanner. What can I do?
A: Go for a wash-off bronzing lotion like DuWop Revolotion Body that gives skin instant, streak-free color and won’t rub off on your clothes. As a bonus, this formula protects your skin with SPF 15.
» Q: Can you recommend a few good sunless tanning products?
A: Try Jan Marini Bioglycolic Sunless Self Tanner, Pevonia Self-Tanning Emulsion or Fake Bake Self-Tanning Lotion. For flawless application, check out our article: Your Guide to a Natural-Looking Sunless Tan. Because these products don’t contain sunscreen, make sure to pick up a sun protection product, and apply daily.
» Q: I’d like to have a tan for prom, so should I go to a tanning salon or just use self-tanner?
A: Because indoor tanning isn’t safe for your skin (here’s why), it’s best to use self-tanner. You’ll want to try out the tanner well in advance to ensure the color is right for you. Also, see if the formula leaves any streaks. Before applying self-tanner, make sure you exfoliate your skin. If you apply too much tanner, use soap and water to wash it off. For areas like the ankles or knees, dip a cotton ball in nail polish remover, and wipe off the excess. And don’t use a self-tanner just before putting on your prom dress — the color can transfer.
» Q: How can I tan safely?
A: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, "A tan is the skin’s response to injury caused by UV exposure." Thus, if your skin changes color, it’s been damaged. If you’re still interested in having a golden glow, your best bet is to apply a sunless product. Self-tanner is a great way to get a gorgeous glow without damaging your skin. However, most sunless products don’t contain any sun protection, so buy and apply a separate SPF product.
Sun exposure, risks & protection
» Q: How much sun exposure is safe for me if I’m using Retin-A at night?
A: As little as possible and never without sunscreen. Prescription-strength retinoid formulas, like Retin-A, make your skin especially vulnerable to the sun and more likely to damage and burn.
» Q: If I use an umbrella at the beach or pool, do I still need to use sunscreen?
A: While an umbrella can provide extra coverage from the sun, you still need to be diligent about sunscreen. Dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D., writes on her Yahoo! Health blog that when it comes to sun protection, “not all umbrellas are created equal.” The darker the fabric and the tighter the fabric’s weave, the better the protection from UV rays. However, an umbrella only provides an SPF of 5-15, and if you’re near water or concrete, don’t forget that the sun is still reflecting from below, writes Dr. Baumann.
» Q: Do I need to apply sunscreen to skin that isn’t exposed to the sun?
A: Yes, according to Leslie Baumann, M.D., the average cotton shirt provides an SPF of 5, which isn’t enough to shield your skin. You should shoot for SPF 15 or higher. Dr. Baumann recommends applying sunscreen to your entire body or purchasing clothing with UPF protection.
» Q: I never get sunburned. Doesn’t that mean that I’m in the clear with sun damage?
A: A sunburn is a tell-tale sign that your skin has been damaged; however, as the Skin Cancer Foundation writes on its Web site: “Plenty of damage can be done without the red flag of sunburn being raised.” Any tan or change in color indicates damage.
» Q: Is sunscreen for my lips really necessary?
A: UV rays can harm the lips just like any other part of your body, leading to mild sunburn or even lip cancer. Ellen Marmur, M.D., chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, tells WebMD, “The best protection for lips is anything that says sun block.” She recommends a zinc-oxide base with an SPF of 30 or higher, and says to apply it frequently, “which means up to every two hours or so based on exposure.” Try Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm Lemon and Chamomile, which made WebMD’s top 10 lip balm list for sun protection. Learn about other commonly missed places here.
» Q: I have a darker complexion. How will I know if my skin is getting sunburned?
A: Physical effects of sunburn may be harder to spot on darker skin. Any noticeable change in skin tone, redness, irritation or sensitivity indicates that you’ve spent too long outside. Here’s another way to tell: When pressed, sunburned skin turns white, and then quickly turns red due to capillaries filling with blood.
» Q: When does sun damage begin?
A: Sun damage starts in childhood, so help your kids understand the importance of daily sunscreen application now. In fact, research suggests that the number of children diagnosed with melanoma is increasing every year, according to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute. In addition to applying sunscreen daily, protect your children by having them wear sunglasses, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wear proper clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat. Find out more about sunscreen and kids here.
» Q: Can chocolate really help fight skin cancer?
A: Studies show that dark chocolate and other types of cocoa solid foods are rich in antioxidants that may act as a shield against sun damage — but of course don’t rely solely on chocolate for protection!
» Q: What is photosensitivity?
A: Photosensitivity is a condition where exposure to the sun causes unsightly skin rashes. Individuals with this condition don’t need to avoid the sun entirely, but it’s crucial to take precautions and cover up. Learn all about this condition here.
No matter the season or skin type, protecting yourself from the sun should be a daily habit. And don’t stop at sunscreen — lip balm, sun protective clothing and sunglasses are a few other essential components of a comprehensive sun care regimen. Plus, learning which ingredients can increase sun sensitivity (like retinoids) and which help shield against sun damage (such as zinc oxide) can benefit your skin in the long run.
Stay tuned for more installments of our complete Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook.
Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 12: Natural Skincare
Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 11: Men
Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 10: Makeup
Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 9: Ingredients
Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 8: Hair