Sunscreen needs to be part of a daily routine, especially in the summer. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, micadew.

The most powerful skin-health boosting product you can own and wear is sunscreen. Yet many people are reluctant about applying it, citing fears over the chemicals it contains, a dislike of how it feels on the skin, or just forgetting to apply it.

Some people also believe that they need to skip sunscreen to allow for vitamin D from the sun. It’s twisted thinking. “Vitamin D is important for bone health, but seeking the sun in an attempt to get vitamin D is counterproductive, due to the higher risk of skin cancer from UV radiation exposure,” explains Dr. Jennifer Beecker, certified dermatologist and national chair of the CDA Sun Awareness Working Group. The smarter and safer way to get vitamin D is through fortified foods and supplements, especially for Canadians ages 50 and up who are concerned about bone health.

Wearing sunscreen needs to be a daily habit to protect skin against UV rays and melanoma. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Katiew.

Sun exposure will not only prematurely age the skin, but can lead to skin cancer. Rates are on the rise in Canada. The latest figures from the Canadian Dermatology Association say that melanoma is the eighth most common form of cancer in the country. In 2017, there were an estimated 7,300 new cases of melanoma and 1240 deaths from it. The risk increases with age. The average age of diagnosis is 63. In 2015, basal cell carcinoma affected 60,000 Canadians and squamous cell carcinoma affected 20,000.

Whether it’s vanity and the quest for beauty or a desire to prevent skin cancer, all roads lead back to sun protection.

Practice safe sun
Mature skin tends to be more sensitive and chemical sunscreens may cause redness or itching for some people. An effective alternative is sunblock (also called physical sunscreen). It acts like a wall between sun and skin using ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Both are natural minerals, ground into very fine powder and added into a lotion or cream to block, reflect and scatter UVA (the type of light that causes premature aging) and UVB (which cause the skin to burn) rays by forming a physical barrier on the skin’s surface. They work differently than chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV rays, rather than block them.

Physical sunscreens can be found in a variety products, like TIZO2 Facial Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40 (in tinted or non-tinted formulations). It uses both zinc and titanium dioxide and leaves out dyes, fragrance, oils and preservations, making it a good choice for irritation-prone skin. Some other options include: Badger All-Natural Sunscreen Cream SPF 30, Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60 and Alba Botanica Sun Fragrance-Free Sunscreen SPF 30. If playing sports, choose a water- and sweat-resistant formulation like Vichy Idéal Soleil Sport Ultra-Light Refreshing Lotion SPF 60.

For jogging or playing tennis, choose a sweat-resistant sunscreen.

If your skin is very sensitive, opt for a children’s sunscreen formula. It’s not only great for the grandkids, but for grown ups, too. It is more gentle on the skin. Try Coppertone’s new WaterBabies Whipped Kids Sunscreen SPF 50.

When it comes to sun protection factor or SPF, the Canadian Dermatology Association recommends a minimum of SPF 30 SPF. It’s okay to go higher since, when we put on sunscreen, the majority of us do not apply enough to get its full protective benefits. About one ounce of sunscreen should be enough for full body coverage.

Ouch! If your time outdoors left you with a nasty sunburn, take a cool bath or shower to ease discomfort. For a bath, add 125 mL (1/2 cup) of cornstarch, oatmeal or baking soda to soothe the skin. Apply an aloe vera lotion or witch hazel several times a day and cool the burn with cold compresses. Do not use petroleum jelly, butter or other home remedies. They can prevent or delay healing.

Self-tanning strategies
The ultimate bronzed skin comes from products that darken skin without sun exposure. The Canadian Cancer Society has deemed these to be safe since they use temporary dyes absorbed only by the uppermost layers of the skin. The colour fades in time as your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells. Unless you reapply a self-tanning product, your faux tan will be gone in about four to five days. The active ingredient is dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. It’s a colourless sugar that reacts with the top layers of the skin and causes colour to develop.

The new breed of self-tanners is easier to apply and offer faster results. Consider Neutrogena Build-A-Tan Gradual Sunless Tan Lotion; or Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel. You’ll still need to wear sunscreen unless the product specifies it also has sunscreen. Boost the longevity of your fake tan by exfoliating your skin in the shower before you apply a self-tanner. Forget lotions that promise to accelerate tanning. There’s no scientific evidence to back up their claims.

A healthier option to give skin a sun-kissed glow is a self tanner.

And don’t even think of using a tanning bed. They are dangerous and deliver extremely high rates of UVA rays, sure to damage skin and worse. The International Agency for Research on cancer (an affiliate of the World Health Organization) ranks tanning beds right up there with cigarettes and plutonium in terms of the top cancer causers for humans.

Keep moisturizing
When summer temperatures are balmy and warm, do you need to wear moisturizer since your natural oils are doing the trick? Well, don’t pack it away with your winter coat. Mature skin has a tendency to be drier. It will feel better with a light application of moisturizer since it plays an important part in the regulation of oil production.

The key is to lighten up. If you were using a cream in the winter, switch to a lotion. If you were a lotion user, opt for an oil-free version for the summer. The top picks include: Eminence Sugar Plum Oil-free Revitalizer, NeoStrata Sheer Hydration SPF 35 and Clinique Super City Block Oil-Free Daily Face Protector SPF 25.

Choose a moisturizer that incorporates sunscreen to save a step in your skin care regime and get you out the door faster. Applying a single product will feel better on your skin than two, which could feel too heavy in the summer.

The newest types of moisturizer hone in on defending skin against not just the sun’s UV rays, but pollution, too. Reversa Urban Protection Hydrating Care SPF 30 uses fragmented hyaluronic acid, vitamin E and kopara extract for French Polynesia to neutralize skin-damaging free radicals and stop them from causing dehydration, irritation, redness and loss of radiance.

UVA rays can cause premature skin aging, while UVB rays result in sunburn. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, bjaglin.

Make it fragrance-free
Have you ever had hives or itchy, red skin after being in the sun? The blame may go to the fragrance. It can cause allergic contact dermatitis with sun exposure. Don’t spritz on your favourite scent before you head outdoors. Choose beauty products labeled as “fragrance free” or “without perfume.” Even ‘unscented’ products may contain fragrance in order to mask other chemical odours.

Whether you’re walking, swimming, or just sitting lakeside at the cottage, play it safe and defend your skin.