As we brace ourselves for a steamy Southern summer, we should take steps to protect our skin from the sun. You've heard this simple but potentially life-saving advice before: Wear sunscreen.
Two types of ultraviolet (UV) light can harm your skin — UVA and UVB. A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects you from both. According to the Mayo Clinic's website (www.mayoclinic.org), UVA rays cause premature skin aging; symptoms include wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays, meanwhile, cause unprotected skin to tan and eventually burn. Overexposure to either type of ultraviolet light can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen and proper clothing can save the day — and your skin.
There are two types of sunscreens, explains New Orleans-based dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo of the Lupo Center for Aesthetic and General Dermatology.
"Physical sunscreens are also known as inorganic sunscreens," she says. These include products that contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens, also known as organic sunscreens, contain carbon-based compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone.
Each has pros and cons, but Lupo prefers physical sunscreens for the most effective coverage and protection.
"I still think physical sunscreens are the best," she says. "A physical sunscreen is a true physical block of most of the UV rays," whereas the chemical sunscreens can degrade and become less effective after sun exposure.
Some people prefer chemical sunscreens because they absorb into the skin more easily and are generally thinner, but Lupo notes that physical sunscreens have been improved in terms of texture, making them easier to blend on the skin and less noticeable than their chalkier-looking predecessors. Plus, she says, "A lot of sunscreen companies and the more high-end sunscreens are now adding antioxidants and other agents that neutralize other forms of light that can be problematic to the skin, specifically infrared light."
When shopping for the right sunscreen, Lupo recommends looking at the SPF (sun protection factor) number, which indicates how long a sunscreen can protect the skin from ultraviolet B rays. SPF doesn't account for UVA ray protection.
"I recommend a minimum SPF of 40," she says. "If you're serious about sun protection, a 15 isn't good enough."
She also is one of many experts who recommends using sunscreen daily — not just for trips to the beach.
Some of the highest-quality sun protection products, she says, are made by Avene and Colorescience, both of which are available in cream and powder formats at retail stores, and Revision Skincare, a brand dispensed by physicians.
"Revision is a fabulous line," she says. "They have been battling issues with counterfeit products on the internet, so you have to be careful and make sure you go through an authorized Revision dealer. I don't know a good dermatologist who doesn't carry it."
Another sun care expert, Chris Tolles, co-founder of a new supplement company called Sundots, reminds people that radiation from the sun can penetrate through many clothing fabrics "much more easily than we realize." Even a opaque beach cover-up can allow ultraviolet light through, he says.
In addition to wearing sunscreen, he recommends wearing UPF (ultraviolet protection factor)-rated clothing. When shopping for these fabrics, take note of the number. A UPF rating of 25, for example, means that only 1/25 — or 4 percent — of UV radiation can penetrate the fabric and reach the skin.
Sundots are edible gummy supplements that just hit the market at select CVS stores and other locations after its founders, entrepreneur Chris Tolles and Dr. Emilia Javorsky (who also holds a master's degree in public health), completed a successful crowd-funding campaign in the spring. The supplement works internally to fortify cells against the free radical damage caused by ultraviolet light. The vegan, candy-like product contains minimal additives, and its founders hope customers will consume Sundots daily as part of their skin care regimen.
"[Sundots] are not an alternative to sunscreen," Tolles says. They should be used in conjunction with other sunscreen products to enhance protection from harmful UV rays.
New Orleans dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo hasn't tried Sundots, but she is familiar with the active ingredient, polypodium leucotomos extract, which comes from a fern found in Central and South America. Studies in humans and mice over the years have shown that it acts as an antioxidant to protect skin from ultraviolet radiation.
Lupo says when she goes hiking, she takes a similar oral supplement called Heliocare Ultra, which also contains polypodium leucotomos extract. She also warns that these supplements work in addition to topical sunscreens, not as replacements.
With the invention of Sundots, Tolles says, "Our goal is to create new, healthier habits."
For more information, visit www.sundots.com.