Dermatologist Plea: Use Sun Protection Year Round

Sep 22, 2011 2 Comments by

Now that fall has arrived, your skin care regimen may change, but please leave sun protection in the mix. UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays are present year-round, whether cloudy or sunny.  By forgoing sun protection in the fall and winter, you may be exposing your skin to sun damage, which accumulates slowly over-time causing age spots, wrinkles or worse. Take it from Dr. Cynthia Bailey who has been practicing dermatology in California for over 24 years. Never tuck your sun protection away, even for a day.

Expert advice from Dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D.

You know that you should protect your skin from the summer sun, but what about the rest of the year? And what about the morning and late afternoon, do you know if that sun will cause wrinkles, age spots and skin cancer? You’ve noticed that the sun feels weaker in the non-summer months and in the morning and afternoon, can it still damage your skin if you don’t sun protect?

I see a lot of patients in my dermatology practice with tanned and wrinkled skin who tell me that because they walk or swim in the morning or during the non-summer months that they don’t need sunscreen or sun protective clothing.  They think that because the sun feels weaker they’re safe. Yes, the sunburn ray called UVB is less intense then, but the sun still damages your skin and the tan and wrinkles are the evidence.

The reason the sun is harmful is that UVA rays are out in full intensity; they’re out all day, all year, and at the same intensity as mid-day in the summer!  This means that from sunup to sundown, January or July you’re getting the same hit of UVA. Plus, UVA penetrates your skin more deeply than UVB causing significant and irreversible damage to the deeper parts, and this causes wrinkles.  As if that’s not enough, your sunscreen SPF value tells you nothing about how well your product blocks UVA.  In fact many products don’t do a good job blocking the UVA rays, which is one of the big criticisms of sunscreens.

I’m writing this post in September and I hope that it will help you plan great sun protection for your skin as we move into fall and winter.  Don’t slack off on your sun protection just because the sunburn ray is less intense and the sun feels less damaging. You need to take UVA seriously, which means you need really good protection from UVA.

UVA is bad news! It penetrates skin more deeply than the sunburn ray UVB and the havoc it wreaks on your skin is caused by free radicals.  These free radicals cause a damage that leads to skin thinning (atrophy), which is what causes most of the wrinkles and skin fragility that we erroneously associate with aging (extrinsic aging of the skin as opposed in intrinsic aging).  Thin, fragile skin tears and bruises easily as you get older and we can’t reverse it.  UVA is also linked to the development of skin cancers, including melanoma.  To reiterate, UVA damage is not reversible which means prevention is really important.

Even on brisk fall days, the sun's UV rays are present.

What’s my advice for the best year round UVA sun protection for your skin?

1.  Keep the sun off your skin with sun protective clothing and a full brim hat

Try to cover as much of your skin as possible and when it’s not really hot outside this is easy to do.  Remember, when you depend on sunscreen alone you need a ‘thick and sticky coat’ every 2 hours, and that’s hard to keep up with.  Plus, a sunscreen’s protection isn’t perfect and neither is your application of it.  My preference is that you wear sun protective clothing for the best sun protection.  Ideally you want to wear clothes that protects your full arms and chest too.  These are areas where people get a lot of unfortunate skin thinning from sun damage because they wear short sleeved v-neck shirts.  During hot weather or outdoor athletic activities wear functional garments like swim shirts and tights, ventilated sun protective shirts etc.  Don’t skimp on yourself, create a wardrobe that really protects your skin. 

2.  Wear broad spectrum sunscreen everyday on all the skin that’s left uncovered

This includes your face, neck, ears and the back of your hands.  Make sure your sunscreen product blocks UVA well.  In my opinion, this means using a product with 5% or more micronized zinc oxide. Sunscreen formulation is still tricky though which is why I stick with a small group of products that I’ve seen work over and over for my patients and my family.  Sunscreen product failure is all too common with other sunscreens, you need a product that you can trust especially with UVA because the UV ray doesn’t cause a quick sunburn and it may take weeks to figure out that your product is letting UVA through.  I also don’t recommend that you rely on a facial moisturizer for UVA protection because most don’t do a good job at that.  Remember the SPF tells you only about UVB protection, not about UVA protection.  Be deliberate about your daily application of sunscreen, use only a broad spectrum product so that you have the UVA protection you need to keep your skin healthy and strong.

3.  Add high concentration antioxidant skin care products to your facial skin care routine and apply them everyday

Scientific studies have shown that applying highly concentrated antioxidants to your skin really does reduce UV damage.  The best are the green tea polyphenols, vitamin C and E.  There is no regulation on these products though meaning any skin cream or serum can make grand claims about containing antioxidants yet include only a minute ‘fairy dusting’ concentration that doesn’t do anything.  A recent study of sunscreen products with added antioxidants showed that the incidental amounts added to those products did not provide free radical protection and had no antioxidant power when tested in the laboratory.  With the right products though I’ve seen my patients get real results (fewer precancerous lesions for me to treat during their checkups).  These products are the two Replenix Creams and the C/R/S vitamin C serum that I sell from my web store. 

4.  Don’t forget to seek the shade to sun protect your skin

As the weather gets colder it’s so tempting to want to sit in the direct sun, but only do that with sun protective clothing and sunscreen on.  Keep your skin out of the sun as much as possible.  Remember that UV rays bounce off pavement, sand, rocks, buildings etc.  If you’re getting a tan you’re exposed.

5.  Don’t listen to people who tell you to get non-summer, morning or afternoon sun to prevent vitamin D deficiency

Remember, UVA doesn’t make vitamin D in your skin so resist that false advice to get year round sun exposure for your vitamin D production.  Most places in the world only have enough UVB rays during the summer to make meaningful vitamin D in your skin.  Even then, I don’t recommend using your skin as a vitamin D factory because it gives doctors like me job security.  Vitamin D is pretty complex and I always recommending talking to your personal doctor for advice.  To read more about my opinion on vitamin D and the sun click here to read my article Are You Really Getting Vitamin D From The Sun Or Just Nuking Your DNA?

Reference: Ex vivo evaluation of radical sun protection factor in popular sunscreens with antioxidants, Steven Q. Wang, MD et. al., Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2011;65:525-30

More from Dr. Bailey at http://www.drbaileyskincare.com/blog/.

Disclaimer: The information provided by Coolibar and its contributors is general skin care information and should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem.

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2 Responses to “Dermatologist Plea: Use Sun Protection Year Round”

  1. Henry Lahore says:

    Take a look at the science.
    UVA varies a lot during the day and during the year
    Nice charts at http://www.vitamindwiki.com/tiki-index.php?page_id=803

  2. Dermatologist London says:

    This is a great post. Hopefully it’ll help raise awareness that repeated over-exposure to the sun can cause serious health problems.

    Best wishes, Claudia
    http://www.claudialouch.com/

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