We’ve all been schooled that the regular use of sunscreen can help prevent both skin cancer and sunburns. And at this warm-weather time of year, sunscreen becomes more top of mind. But a recent Australian study provides even more reasons to develop a daily sunscreen habit.
The study, funded by the Australian government and a sunscreen manufacturer, and published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is the first to scientifically back up that daily sunscreen use can delay skin aging.
While dermatologists have long believed sunscreen protects against premature wrinkles and lines, this study is a pioneer in studying photo-aging on humans. (Previous research on how sunscreen affects aging was conducted on mice.)
It’s not too late for a daily sunscreen habit
The study also showed that even if you haven’t been a habitual sunscreen user, your skin will still benefit from it even if you start as late as middle age.
Research followed 900 people in Australia under 55 and compared those randomly assigned to apply sunscreen daily to those who used it sporadically. Casts were made of the tops of hands of participants to measure fine lines and wrinkles from photo aging.
Not every participant assigned to the daily-use group followed through perfectly. But after four-and-a-half years, those who used the sunscreen regularly had younger-looking hands, with 24 per cent less skin aging, including wrinkles, dark spots and coarse skin, than the infrequent sunscreen users. And skin-saving benefits were experienced by both young-adult and middle-aged participants.
When to reach for the bottle
Even those savvy to the benefits of sunscreen may underestimate when they need to use it. For example, people from northern climes may think of hauling out the SPF only at this time of year or when they’re on a sun vacation. But ultraviolet rays that accelerate skin aging can accumulate damage any time you’re in the sun, including commuting to work, taking your kids to school or running out to the grocery store. And they can penetrate car windows.
Daily sunscreen strategy
What’s worked for me in being diligent about sunscreen is finding a product I like so much it’s become my go-to moisturizer. In my case, that product is RoC Soleil Protexion Velvet Moisture SPF 60. While the protective factor is probably a little overkill for daily use, I find this R0C product disappears into my skin and makes it glow.
Finding your SPF soul mate
Before finding it, however, I serial-dated a passel of products that I ended up ditching either because they were too heavy, too greasy or made me look like a mime.
If you haven’t found your sunscreen match, look for a product that’s broad-spectrum (protective against both aging UVA and burn- and skin cancer-causing UVB rays) with an SPF of at least 30. Check out the Canadian Dermatology Association’s website for a list of their approved options.
Other than that, it’s up to personal preference, whether you want a chemical or physical sunscreen, a cream or a lotion, or prefer a paraben-free product, etc.
More is more
Although I’m a faithful sunscreen user, I’ve discovered I don’t use enough of it. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using enough to fill a shot glass and applying it to face, hands, ears, neck, upper chest and any other area that will be exposed to rays.
The association also advises applying sunscreen15 minutes prior to sun exposure and then reapplying every two hours, or after swimming or perspiring heavily. Looking at the not-yet-empty RoC container I bought last year, I know I need to hit the bottle more.
Vitamin D dilemma
I’ve talked to people who worry that wearing sunscreen all the time will prevent them from getting sufficient vitamin D. (This important vitamin is essential to calcium absorption and bone mineralization, and recent research suggests it has a protective effect against several cancers, diabetes and other serious diseases).
While another recent study, this one from the UK, indicates that sunscreens do allow for some absorption of the vitamin, ask your family physician if you should take supplemental vitamin D or expose yourself to a limited amount of daily unprotected sun.
Best bang for your beauty buck
While it’s not the sexiest beauty product, the Australian study suggests sunscreen may be the most important anti-aging tool for the skin. As a result, I think we all need to get more addicted to our daily sunscreen habit.
If preventing skin cancer isn’t enough of a reason, just think how much cheaper most sunscreens are than facials, anti-aging creams, Retin-A, cosmetic procedures and the other things we do to delay skin aging.
Let’s raise a shot glass (of sunscreen) to that!