Get healthy, beautiful skin (in the sun!)
Sunscreen does amazing things for your complexion, above and beyond preventing you from getting scorched. "If your skin isn't constantly fighting off UV rays and free radicals, it can actually have the leeway to repair itself and reverse past damage," says Leslie Baumann, M.D., a dermatologist in Miami Beach. "Put sunscreen on daily and you'll look younger over time." Add that to your list of reasons to make an SPF effort.
—Alyssa Kolsky Hertzig
Keep these simple rules in mind before you shell out money for a sunscreen.
Look for the term broad-spectrum or UVA/UVB protection on the label. The familiar SPF number isn't enough, because it refers only to protection against UVB rays (the ones responsible for burning skin); you need a sunscreen that also fends off at least some UVA rays (which don't burn but can break down collagen and age skin). It pays to make sure that's spelled out: The Archives of Dermatology reports that of 29 popular moisturizers that touted an SPF and broad-spectrum on the label, only six offered adequate UVA protection. Try Avon Anew Solar Advance Sunscreen Body Lotion SPF 30, $34.
Read the fine print.
Once you've found a broad-spectrum sunscreen, you need to narrow your search even further, as the term doesn't guarantee that every UVA wavelength is covered. "So you might diligently apply but still see premature aging," says Steven Q. Wang, M.D., director of dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. To be sure, look for a mix of avobenzone and octocrylene (found in any of the sunscreens here) or 5 to 10 percent zinc oxide. Try MDSolarSciences No Touch Body Spray SPF 40, $21.
Crunch the numbers. You may think that a daily moisturizer with SPF 15 is adequate if all you'll be doing is heading to the office and running errands during lunch. And, true, it's better than nothing. But the American Academy of Dermatology now recommends bumping that up to an SPF 30 for daily use; if you'll be in the sun for an extended period, a moisturizer or sunscreen with SPF 50 is ideal. Don't forget the broad-spectrum protection and reapply often, especially after breaking a sweat or taking a swim. Try Origins A Perfect World UV Face Protector SPF 35, $28.
Got skin issues? Sunscreen may be the solution.
Banish breakouts.Convinced that (a) sunscreen will clog your pores and lead to zits, and (b) the sun has magical pimple-drying powers? Wrong. As long as you stick with oil-free sunscreens (and especially avoid formulas with mineral oil, paraffin wax, liquid paraffin or petrolatum), your breakouts shouldn't increase at all, says Howard Sobel, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. In fact, they could decrease if you try a sunscreen with zit-fighting 2 percent salicylic acid. As for the sun clearing acne by drying up oil, again, no dice. "It might seem as if your pimples vanish following a day at the beach, but your skin will eventually react to the UV damage by producing more sebum, which clogs pores and fuels the pimple cycle," Dr. Sobel says. A better idea: Instead of relying on the sun to combat pimples, cover (and heal) them with a mineral-based powder; the minerals have inherent bacteria-fighting qualities and deflect UV rays. Try Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Airbrushing Loose Powder SPF 30, $14.
Ease dry or sensitive skin. Opt for creamy formulas packed with hydrators such as oat protein or sodium hyaluronate (the latter attracts water from the air and binds it to skin) along with omega-3s, essential fatty acids that are also deeply moisturizing. To further seal in moisture, apply when skin is a bit damp, Dr. Sobel says. Prone to mystery rashes? Use formulas that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide—physical protectors that deflect UV light and are less apt to be irritating. They can leave a white sheen on skin, though, so dab lightly on your face, then rub in completely (rather than pouring a blob in your hands). Try Aveeno Natural Protection Sunblock Lotion SPF 30, $10.
Erase lines and wrinkles. Look for a sunscreen laced with antioxidants such as vitamins E and C, caffeine, coffeeberry or niacin. "Antioxidants fight free radicals before they lead to wrinkles and cancer," says Fredric Brandt, M.D., a dermatologist in NYC and Miami. For the highest level of protection, apply a separate antioxidant serum to skin first; serums are ultra-thin and designed to penetrate deeply into skin. (SELF likes Dr. Stanley Jacobs Visco-Elastic Transforming Serum, $120.) Then layer a souped-up sunscreen on top. Try StriVectin-SH Age Protect SPF 30, $49.
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