Sun Protection Tips From a Dermatologist
By Cynthia Bailey MD.
Sun protection tips from a dermatologist can keep your skin healthy and strong over the years. In my 30+ years practicing dermatology in sunny California, I have done well over 200,000 skin exams on my sun-loving California patients.
I've seen over and over what sun does to skin and what sun protection strategies and sunscreens work. I've used this to develop practical sun protection tips that my patients and I see working well to protect their skin - helping to keep their skin healthy and attractive. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
Get Sun Protection Tips from a Dermatologist
Most of the skin changes we associate with aging are actually due to sun exposure:
- The process of wrinkles and dermal thinning are due to a breakdown of skin collagen activated by UV rays.
- Uneven pigment skin color is also caused or exacerbated by sun.
Every person’s skin will appear better when it is sun protected. UV rays from the sun cause damage that leads to wrinkling, skin thinning, liver spots, uneven skin pigmentation and skin cancer. There is no denying the negative impact the sun has on your skin, no matter how much pigment your skin naturally has. - Dermatologist and Skin Wellness Expert Dr. Cynthia Bailey
The good news is that practical, effective, comfortable and fashionable sun protection is now easy because of advances in sunscreen and sun protection fiber technologies.
How do you protect your skin from the sun?
The real question is how do you do it conveniently, fashionably and easily! The simple concept of is that you want to prevent UV rays from entering your skin.
Keep UV rays off of your skin by
- applying sunscreen that acts as a shield, or
- cover your skin with clothing that does the same thing.
Even in the shade or near a window, UV rays (though fewer) are still bouncing around. That means sun up to sun down, you want your skin protected.
Start simply and get dressed. That skin is covered. If you plan on intense sun exposure, make sure the fabric is sun protective.
What Is Sun Protective Clothing?
Some fabric has a tight enough weave or enough fiber to block UV rays. For example, newer cotton fibers are fluffier and block UV better than heavily laundered cotton which has lost its fluff. Intense color may provide more protection and twill and sateen weave is better than looser weave. For every day activities, normal clothing with tight weave may provide good protection.
UV protection from fabric is impacted by so many factors that it is impossible to entirely know without actually testing the fabric. For intense sun exposure, I recommend UPF 50 rated clothing. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
When you plan to be out in the direct sun for extended time, look for clothing rated as UPF 50, and cover as much of your skin as you can. Technology now exists to alter fabric fibers so that they block the UV rays. Your skin will feel more comfortable when you wear UPF 50 clothing instead of exposing your skin to the sun.
The brand of sun protective clothing that I trust the most is Coolibar. Coolibar has the most advanced sun protection fiber technology available. The UPF protection of Coolibar clothing lasts for the lifetime of the garment. Coolibar makes clothing for all activities including walking, running, golf, tennis, swimming, and snorkeling. I garden, hike, and swim in Coolibar all year long.
Another alternative product is called SunGuard. This is a UPF treatment you can use to wash into your favorite garments. SunGuard creates sun protective clothing out of what is in your closet.
Did you know that a simple tee shirt has an SPF of 5? It's even lower if you use it for swimming and stretch out the wet fabric. Yep, that’s not good enough for your precious skin! I recommend you wear real UPF rated clothing for days you plan to spend in the sun. - Dr. Cynthia Bailey
How do you protect skin that is not covered by sun protective clothing?
The skin under your sun protective clothing is safe and you can relax about being in the UV rays. For every inch of skin that you can’t cover with clothing, such as your hands, face, ears, neck, you need to put in effort for sun protection.
I teach people to “ASK” themselves: Will my exposed skin be protected? Sun protection is as easy as this simple word
A: APPLY BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 30+ SUNSCREEN
S: SEEK THE SHADE OR CREATE IT WITH A HAT ETC.
K: KNOW YOUR UV EXPOSURE INTENSITY TO BE PREPARED
I explain the details of how to know that your skin is well sun protected in my free Sun Protection Infographic. I invite you to download it and share it with friends and family. It helps simplify the confusion around dermatologist recommended sun protection. Share my infographic and help everyone in your life get the best sun protection that they can. Here's how you do it:
Step 1: Get dressed
Step 2: A.S.K your sun protection
A: APPLY BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 30+ SUNSCREEN TO ALL EXPOSED SKIN
I only trust zinc oxide-based sunscreens. I’ve followed the sunscreen science for 30+ years, and it is my opinion that zinc wins out over all the others. Zinc oxide is a mineral that actually reflects UV rays. It has broad spectrum for both UVB and UVA and it is durable on your skin.
Zinc oxide sunscreens are the best. All other sunscreens either are not broad spectrum or are not durable. Be sure your sunscreen has at least 5% or more zinc oxide listed as an active ingredient. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
The chemical sunscreens (everything other than zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) work by neutralizing UV rays instead of bouncing them, causing a heat-generating chemical reaction on your skin. I’m not a fan.
Because I am such a zinc oxide advocate, I have stocked great mineral zinc oxide sunscreens to fit every complexion, physical activity, and a range of personal values and budgets.
Click here to see the sunscreens that I trust for my skin and that of my patients. I’ve watched these sunscreens serve my thousands of patients well and they trust these products too.
Over my years of medical practice, I’ve heard many stories and seen the results of other sunscreens failing. For these reasons, I’m very specific about sunscreen and I use only well-made zinc oxide sunscreen products in my practice and for my family. Zinc oxide technology has evolved rapidly in the past decade and there are a variety of invisible and easy-to-use mineral zinc oxide sunscreen products to choose from.
Sheer Strength Pure Physical Matte Tinted SPF 30 Creme Sunscreen is my favorite daily facial sunscreen. The tinting technology, thanks to iron oxide, softens complexion flaws and begins to block visible and device screen blue light that contributes to skin pigment problems.Sheer Strength Pure Physical SPF 50+ Refresh Powder Sunscreen to add over 3.2% iron oxide protection to fight visible light rays that can lead to uneven skin pigment problems such as melasma. It is also the ideal touch up sun protection in the middle of the day. Carry this in your purse or backpack.
Sheer Strength Pure Physical SPF 50+ Water Resistant Sunscreen for water sports, swimming and sweaty activities. This non-aerosol spray is economical, easy to use and packs well into your beach bag without making a greasy mess.
Sheer Strength Pure Physical SPF 50+ Liquid Sunscreen is perfect for those wanting an untinted daily wear SPF that's weightless and non-greasy.
Dermatologist Tips to Correctly Apply Sunscreen:
Apply zinc oxide SPF 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen to all uncovered skin.
Don’t forget your ears, the back and sides of your neck, chest, forearms and the back of your hands and all exposed skin on the legs and tops of your feet.
How much sunscreen do you really need to apply?
Apply enough sunscreen to get the full SPF of protection.
Dermatologist recommended amount of sunscreen for your entire body
The average size adult (a person age 14 or more up to 176lbs) needs 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover their body in a bathing suit. That's a shot glass! Look at how many ounces are in your sunscreen container and do the math; if it contains 4 ounces that's 4 bathing suit applications. See why sun protective clothing is both smart and economical?
Dermatologist recommended amount of sunscreen for your face
- 1 teaspoon of sunscreen is needed for the full head and neck.
For the face, most people need a generous 1/4 teaspoon of sunscreen for the face, front of the neck and ears depending on the size of their facial surface area. For the entire head and neck you need more (remember you probably have some hair and will be wearing a hat).
Do you really need to reapply sunscreen?
Yep, it migrates into skin folds, runs off in sweat and wears out as it blocks UV rays.
- Reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours during intense sun exposure.
- Always reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating or rubbing product off your skin.
S: SEEK AND CREATE SHADE
Shade helps reduce the number of UV rays that take aim at your skin!
- Make shade for your face and scalp by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
- Shade your delicate eye area by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Shade the rest of your body by being under umbrellas, or in the shade of trees and structures.
Even in the shade, you need sunscreen and sun protective clothing because some UV rays bounce around.
Sun hats create mobile shade for your precious head and neck skin - the most at-risk skin when it comes to skin cancer and sun damage! - Dr. Cynthia Bailey
Choose your hat for good sun protection. Not all hats protect your skin.
- Be sure that your sun protection hat is made of sun blocking fabric, ideally tested and rated UPF50+.
- Wear a hat with a full 3 or more inch brim, the necessary brim to protect the average adult face/ears/neck.
- A sun protection hat must cover your scalp skin too.
Don’t rely on ball caps or visors to shade your skin fully. They are a dermatologist's job security.
I have an attractive, and affordable hat so that you can use them hard and often, but still feel fashionable.
K: KNOW YOUR SUN EXPOSURE RISK
UV ray intensity varies with the season, time of day, where you live, and proximity to reflective surfaces. Be extra careful and try to avoid direct sun exposure during the times when the sun's UVB rays are most intense.
When are UVB rays most intense?
- UVB intensity is the highest at 10 am – 2 pm standard time, or 11 am – 3 pm daylight savings time.
- UVB is more intense:
- in the summer,
- near the equator, and
- at high altitude.
UVA rays are the other UV ray that damages skin.
- From 'sun up to sun down' UVA rays are strong enough to damage skin. This includes morning, night and in the winter when sun feels 'softer'.
- UVA rays come through most glass too.
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly ‘softer’ morning and late afternoon light - stay protected.
All UV rays bounce off reflective surfaces like cement, sand, walls and other reflective surfaces to intensify exposure. They can come through glass and UV rays even bounce into your shade! Use the little UV Detecto Ring that I created to see what I mean. This little ring will surprise you - trust me.
Those beads were fun and surprising. I was so surprised to see that in the full shade of a building how much sun there is. I thought shade protected you. I was also surprised and pleased that the gloves I use to work outside and drive the tractor didn’t let the sun through; the beads stayed white when I put them under them and drove the tractor all day. Andrea
If there is sunlight, there are UV rays – be protected. My sun protection recommendations are practical and built from 30+ years protecting Californians - including myself - from UV skin damage. Every UV ray we keep out of our skin matters to the overall health and appearance of our skin as we age.
Learn more about sun protecting your skin in my free eBook guide to sunburns and the damage they cause.
Everything You Need to Know About Sunburns
In my free eBook on sunburns and sun protection you will learn about
- The damage sunburn does to your skin
- The 4 steps to halt and reverse the appearance of sun damaged skin
- The 2 types of tans
- The truth behind the 'base tanning' myth
- How to maintain a golden glow without tanning
I've created the information and resources you need for the best sun protection because I want you informed and prepared to take good care of your skin while enjoying life on our sunny planet.
Author: Dr. Cynthia Bailey M.D. is a Board Certified dermatologist practicing dermatology since 1987. She has done well over 200,000 skin exams during her career and authors the longest running physician written skin health blog in the world.