What the sun does:
According to the American Skin Cancer Foundation, "More than 90 percent of visible skin changes associated with aging are caused by the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays." Unprotected exposure to the sun over time causes:
-stretching of blood vessels, causing facial redness
-wearing down of collagen, causing wrinkles, loss of firmness, and sagging skin
Essentially, your skin will look less plump, have less elasticity, and will lose it's vibrancy. All the anti-aging creams in the world can't help you as much as staying out of the sun can in terms of maintaining a healthy complexion.
How to protect yourself:
-Wear SPF 50+. In a four year Australian study of 900 adults, those who applied SPF 55 every morning reduced their skin's aging rate by 24 percent. I recommend Clarins SPF 50, & reapply every 2-3 hours with a spray sunscreen on any given (even cloudy) day. I recommend Hampton Sun Continuous Mist SPF 55. It also works well over makeup.
Now... you're still not 100 percent covered! You're only somewhat protected at this point. For full protection, you'll need to:
-Choose shade over sun as often as possible. (yes, every day, all the time, I know... It's a bummer but it's good for you). The car is the sneakiest place of all for sun exposure. Wear long sleeves and keep your blinder down for extra shade.
-Wear hats. I emphasize this even when you exercise. Running outside exposes you to a lot of sunshine, and all that sweat will wear down your SPF. Wearing a baseball cap will save you a lot of face.
-Don't forget your lips. Wearing SPF on your face and neck is one great thing, but you may be forgetting the already super sensitive skin on your lips. Lips age & deflate faster than the rest of our skin! Wear a lip balm with SPF 15 or higher (& reapply often). I recommend Harry's SPF 15.
-Eat an antioxidant-rich diet. Certain foods help build skin's defense against the sun. Look for foods with... beta-carotene/vitamin A (like sweet potatoes and carrots), which fight free radicals... catechins (like green tea) which act as anti-inflammatories.... Lycopene (like tomatoes, sun-dried are most potent) which prevent redness and protect DNA structure...Vitamin E (like sunflower seeds and avocado) which plump and hydrate skin... and Vitamin C (like citrus fruits, bell peppers, and kale) which boost collagen production. Essentially! Lots of fruit, veggies, and nuts.
-Stay hydrated. Dehydrated skin is more sensitive to damage. Healthy, quenched cells are more ready to prevent sun related problems from starting. Eating lots of fruit is a great way to get antioxidants & easily-absorbed water molecules to your skin cells. Also, I know everyone says it, but try to drink 2 liters of water every day and cut down on coffee intake.
How to heal that day:
So you wore sunscreen (or didn't) and you still got burned by the end of the day. What can you do to minimize the damage done? First thing is to eat right. Follow the above-mentioned food list for guidance. I recommend a tomato-heavy meal (think mediterranean tonight) - I read one study that said an intake of five TBSP of tomato paste served with olive oil increased sunburn protection by 33 percent. Follow with green tea and lots of water.
Topically, I recommend pure aloe vera gel. Not the Walmart stuff with alcohol in it. That'll dry you right out! Try something like this Amara Organics cold pressed gel. Next, get lots of rest to repair those cells.
How to reverse long-term damage:
If you're starting to notice signs of past sun damage, or even if you haven't yet, it's safe to assume we can all benefit from some retroactive TLC. Everything still applies from the preventative side: healthy diet, staying hydrated, etc., but there are also some products that can help take off those sunny days. Look for anti-aging, dark spot targeting products. Here are some things from lines I trust:
-Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic & Retinol Brightening Solution corrects and prevents dark spots & sun damage. I would use this like a serum under my nighttime moisturizer or sunscreen.
-Peter Thomas Roth Unwrinkle Lip Treatment is filled with peptides to deeply moisturize, support collagen production, and slightly fill damaged, aging lips.
Also, don't be too hard on yourself if your skin is "damaged." No regretfulness here! We've all done it. I know I have. The best step is to love yourself and be happy you're starting this exciting journey to protecting your skin if you haven't yet. Yay!
*Photo by Ned Rosen