Even if you know barely anything at all about skincare, chances are you’re still aware that the most essential ingredient to maintain healthy skin is SPF. After all, sun exposure is the most common cause of skin damage. In addition to harmful free radicals, sunlight also emits UVA and UVB rays. While these two forms of rays work differently (UVA reaches more deeply into the skin to damage and age it, while UVB causes sunburns), they both can cause skin cancer.
Although many experts are well-equipped to discuss the risks of sun exposure — and sing the praises of a solid SPF — we’d argue that residents of certain states have more hands-on experience than others. Here, board-certified dermatologists Karan Sra, MD, Loretta Ciraldo, MD, and Sarah Jackson, MD (who practice in Houston, Texas, Aventura, Florida, and New Orleans, Louisiana, respectively), and board-certified, Miami, Florida-based plastic surgeon Jose Rodríguez-Feliz, MD, share the unique tips and tricks they swear by to help keep their patients’ skin safe. Keep reading to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the difference between regular and “sport” sunscreens, tips for reapplication, sun protective clothing, and more.
Spotlyte: How can you ensure that your skin is protected from sun damage?
Dr. Karan Sra: “If you're going to be outdoors, I think sun protective clothing is fantastic. It decreases how much body surface area you have to reapply your sunscreen to, which makes things easier. You're more likely to do it and it's great SPF protection. It's so easy, right? If you can slip on a rash guard that'll cover your back and your arms, those are areas that you won't have to put sunscreen on, or reapply to, either.”
Spotlyte: What brands do you like for sun-protective clothing?
Dr. Sra: “My favorite is Coolibar®. I think they make the best products, honestly, and that they last the longest, too, in terms of withstanding washes. They are definitely one of my favorites. They're a little bit more expensive, but they’re definitely worth the investment.”
Dr. Jose Rodríguez-Feliz: “The most important thing is to avoid sun exposure. I always tell the patient that the most important part of the whole regimen, especially here in Miami, is sunblock. I use Elta MD® sunblock. SPF has to be 30 [or higher] to be effective. The key is that everyone has to reapply it every couple of hours, which most people fail to do.”
Spotlyte: Are there unique forms of sun damage you tend to see in Miami?
Dr. Rodríguez-Feliz: “Especially down here, you can see a lot more damage on the left side of the face, just from driving. There’s also a lot more aging on the hands because of holding the steering wheel. We recommend that [people] tint the glass of their cars.”
Spotlyte: Do you recommend that people apply sunscreen even if they're driving in their car and they have a window tint?
Dr. Rodríguez-Feliz: “Yes. Even if they're just going home. [Patients are] coming to the office and they tell me that they work indoors, or wake up when the sun isn’t even out. Often, patients work in the office with a window and the sun rays will penetrate. None of those windows are protected against the damage of the sun rays. I always tell them to get in the habit of just wearing the sunblock. There are little gloves that have SPF that people wear as well.”
Spotlyte: Are there certain places that are more at risk for skin damage, like the scalp?
Dr. Rodríguez-Feliz: “They actually did a study on this, and the scalp was one of the most common areas for skin cancer. It was the scalp, the nose, and the ears.”
Spotlyte: What about areas that people often miss applying sunscreen to?
Dr. Rodríguez-Feliz: “The areas that are mostly missed are probably the hands and the décolletage. Everyone is good at putting it on their face and neck, but they forget that the décolletage gets a lot of sun. Especially down here in Miami, a lot of the dresses show off a little bit more skin, and you definitely see a lot more sun damage there.”
Spotlyte: What SPF tips and pointers do you have for people who are going down to Florida for a weekend?
Dr. Loretta Ciraldo: “If someone's coming from out of town, I don’t put sunscreen first. We have beautiful beaches in Miami, so the first thing is to think about the hours that you're going to go to the beach. Really try to avoid the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. hours, for a few reasons: it's a lot less crowded if you go after 2 p.m., and it's much more comfortable in the afternoon hours. People coming from afar have got to realize that it is a much more intense sun here, so it's easy to sunburn.”
Spotlyte: What other factors play a part in protecting your skin from sun damage?
Dr. Ciraldo: “We dermatologists say sunscreen is an important part of sun protection, but so is clothing. If you want to go onto our beaches and go swimming in the ocean, put on some sun protective clothing. Hanes® sells shirts that are very cheap, that are like $10. They're SPF 50. You can get them online, you can get them at Target®. I've even had visiting professors come to see me from Rome, and they'll go and stock up on these Hanes shirts. I recommend throwing on some kind of a beach skirt afterwards or even putting a towel over your legs, because sometimes it's not all that easy to actually get sunscreen all over your body.”
Spotlyte: Any other body part protection tips?
Dr. Ciraldo: “You've got to be protecting your eyes. I believe in polarized sunglasses and hats.”
Spotlyte: What’s the difference between regular and sport sunscreens?
Dr. Sarah Jackson: “Regular sunscreens can wear off with sweating. A good sport sunscreen should be water-resistant for [up to] 80 minutes, and should go onto wet or dry skin. My favorite is Elta MD UV Sport Broad Spectrum SPF 50. It absolutely does not run into your eyes — which is crucial for sports — and does not sting, even if your skin is irritated from products or procedures.”
Spotlyte: How often should you reapply sport sunscreen?
Dr. Jackson: “If you are sweating, you should reapply every 80 minutes — or even sooner if you are using a towel to wipe your face. If you are too sweaty to reapply cream sunscreen to your face, then consider a stick for reapplication.”
Spotlyte: Are there other SPFs you like?
Dr. Jackson: “My favorites are the Supergoop!® 100% Mineral Sunscreen Stick; I also love the Supergoop! PLAY® Lip Shield for when I play tennis.”
Spotlyte: What if you have sensitive skin, or sunscreen clogs your pores?
Dr. Jackson: “If sunscreens clog your pores, make sure to find one that says non-comedogenic. One of my favorites for acne-prone skin is Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46. It contains niacinamide that helps protect and calm acne-prone skin. Another product geared towards acne-prone skin is Cetaphil® DermaControlTM Oil Absorbing Moisturizer with SPF 30. It has ingredients that help minimize the appearance of oil during the day and will not clog pores.”
Spotlyte: Anything else to share about sunscreen?
Dr. Sra: “There [were some studies] that said sunscreen is going to cause cancer. That’s the worst. We know not wearing it for a fact causes skin cancer. Over and over again, studies have shown that the benefits of sunscreen far outweigh the risk. It's the cheapest, most effective thing you can do for your skin to help prevent skin cancer, but also to help keep it younger. We're all in this quest for the fountain of youth, but a lot of it is what's sitting in our drawers already. We’ve just got to be consistent about using it every day.”
Dr. Sarah Jackson is a paid Allergan® consultant.