Surprising M.D.-Endorsed Sun Protection Strategies

By Michele Bender
Photograph: Photo courtesy of Iphoto

The prevention strategy on which all dermatologists agree: Sunscreen. Sunscreen. And did we mention sunscreen? Experts used to believe that we get most of our sun exposure (and damage) before the age of 18—but that turns out to be false. The latest figures from the Skin Cancer Foundation show that only about 23 percent of your sun exposure happens before 18. Another 24 percent occurs at ages 19 to 40, and a whopping 53 percent after 40. So don’t think it’s too late to do serious damage—now is a crucial time to really start slathering. To maximize the effect of your sunscreen, heed these tips:

Embrace the shade

Cheryl Karcher, a dermatologist in New York City steers clear of the sun whenever possible and always wears a full-spectrum sunscreen on her face—even if she’s only going to the office. Full-spectrum means the sunscreen protects you from both skin can-cer (caused by UVA and UVB rays) and sunburns (caused by UVB). To ensure your product does both, go for one that has an SPF of 15 or higher to deflect the UVB rays and that contains avobenzone—aka Parsol 1789—oxybenzone, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to shield your skin from UVA rays. Karcher prefers SPF 70; if she’s outdoors for an extended period, she slathers it on head to toe, then reapplies it every hour and a half because most sunscreens (even those with an SPF north of 30) are less effective after about 90 minutes.

Slather sunscreen underneath your clothes too
If San Antonio-based dermatologist Vivian Bucay is wearing open-weave clothing (she tests items by holding them up to the light), she covers her whole body (even the covered-up parts) in a full-spectrum sun block with an SPF of 30.

Double up on protection
“If I’m spending a day in the sun, I don’t trust myself with just one form of protection—I use two,”Leslie Baumann, a Miami Beach dermatologist explains. “The first layer contains a UVA chemical blocker like avobenzone; then, on top of that, I use one with a UVA physical blocker like titanium diox-ide. That top layer deflects rays, and any sun that does manage to seep through is then absorbed by the chemical layer.”

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