This post is dedicated to the skin cancer awareness month. It is not sponsored in any form: all products mentioned have been bought by me.
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Sun never liked me.
I grew up when a tan was considered a healthy indication of nice summer vacation. And each September when in the school gym changing room my classmates proudly demonstrated to each other the degree to which they managed to darken their skin over the school break, I’d never had anything to produce: my skin above and below the sports short’s demarcation line stayed unchanged despite all my attempts to slowly build up anything reminding a tan. I remember relatives joking that money was wasted on taking me on a seaside vacation.
The dislike was mutual. From an early age, I learned to stay out of the sun or cover myself if I had to be outside because the only result I could achieve was to burn my skin, after which, ironically, it would go back to being completely fair skipping the step of getting at least a little darker as it happened to many of my friends.
From the American coevals, I know that at the same time sunscreens existed but weren’t that popular in the US. Where I was growing up suffering from the sun, sunscreens just didn’t exist as a product. Luckily for me, at a latitude where I lived, one could burn only during 2-3 months per year and only if staying outside for hours, not covered. Or if to go to the above-mentioned seaside, which most people couldn’t afford to do even every year.
Once I moved to California, I quickly discovered two things: 1) my sun tolerance here has shrunk to mere 15-20 minutes outside, after which I would burn, and 2) despite sounding too good to be true, there were magical potions that would prevent that. And that was when sunscreens came into my life permanently.
In more than the last 2 decades, I can recall just a handful of times when I would get a sunburn. In most cases just because I missed a spot or something else happened completely unexpectedly.
Over years I went from one sunscreen to another. I would find one that worked for me and would keep using it until it would get discontinued. I never paid much attention to ingredients – if it worked for me, it worked. But I don’t like the feeling of extra products on my skin, plus from time to time (not always!) some of the products cause or worsen my mild eczema. And I have acne-prone skin. So usually as soon as I get home, I wash sunscreen remains off.
You might imagine how glad I was to remove that part of my daily routine once I started working from home! I would still use my current favorite Paula’s Choice RESIST Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50 when going outside during the day, but I didn’t bother with anything else for my day-to-day home office life (unless I had a video meeting, then I might use a tinted moisturizer or a light foundation with some sunscreen properties, but most of my meetings are voice-only).
And then a couple of months ago for the first time, I heard that we were supposed to apply sunscreen even when staying inside. My first reaction was that it was complete nonsense. I went online to find some reputable source to debacle that claptrap… only to find a dozen in support of it. I’m sure that I was one of the last to learn about it (as I mentioned before, my first year of Covid-19 hadn’t provided me any free/extra time to kill, so I wasn’t reading much on self-care, etc.), but just in case some of my readers were in the same boat, here is just a couple of sentences for an explanation – and then you’ll run your own search to confirm to yourself that I was not dreaming all that up.
While it’s true that you can’t get a sunburn through the window glass since it blocks UVB rays responsible for that, UVA light that causes premature skin aging by breaking down collagen and elastic tissue and contributes to the formation of skin cancers still goes through regular house or car window glass. You might not be sitting in front of the unprotected window, but those light rays reflect from light surfaces and still might be harmful.
I might have been still skeptical arguing (with myself) how much of the sunlight actually gets into my house, but some other realization hit me: while I was examining my face on the subject of pillow-produced creases (or lack thereof), which I covered in Episode 1 of this series, I noticed also that my skin tone got very uneven, and I could see a lot more dark spots than I remembered before.
Of course, this is anecdotal evidence, and it could be just a coincidence… But somehow I doubt it: until I started working from home, I wore a tinted moisturizer with SPF every single day – just to cover my walk from the car to the office and then 2-3 walking breaks during the day. And I used to work in a virtually windowless office.
It looks like I’m going back to wearing sunscreen. Every. Single. Day. Inside or outside.
Another personal discovery was the amount of sunscreen required for the proper protection. Again, I might be the last one to learn that, but on the off chance that at least one of the readers hasn’t got that memo yet: if you plan to spend enough time outside, to cover your face and neck only and get to the declared protection strength, you’ll need about ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) of sunscreen cream or lotion.
And for those who prefer not to carry around a measuring device, you can figure out once for each cream/bottle how many fingers’ length it takes to place the necessary amount of product (dependent on your fingers’ size and tube opening), and then just stick to it.
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I don’t remember exactly when but by my estimate it was about 15 years ago that I learned about Sephora’s yearly collection of products intended for skin protection from UVA/UVB rays. It was before the most current beauty subscription boxes. Back then it was called Fun in the Sun. Its cost was $25, and it included both full- and travel-size products from different brands. The kit was extremely popular, and it was usually sold out within hours after “dropping.” (Am I the only one who dislikes this new term?) Getting that kit required an approach similar to buying tickets for popular concerts. I tried to buy it once or twice but didn’t succeed. And then I found sunscreens I liked and wasn’t too interesting in trying anything else.
This year I thought it would be a good idea to see what was out there in the sunscreen arena, and with the current situation with testing anything in stores getting Sephora’s kit made total sense.
Since I wasn’t following Sephora too closely, I don’t know when the name changed, but now it’s called Sun Safety Kit (and I see that name back to 2015 at least). It costs $39 ($25 of which are donated to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). And since the price of one of the full-size products offered in the kit that I wanted to try anyway (Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare All-Physical Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50) is more than the price for the whole kit, it was a no-brainer.
I’ve started testing products from the kit, and I hope that by the time I finish them, I’ll find new favorites to add to my sunscreen wardrobe. I’ll share an update once I’m ready.
I also hope that I was the last one who came upon all this information, and as you were reading this post, you kept saying “Dah!”. But if no, please take this seriously. You do not have to believe me – do your research, find sources you trust, gather the information that is relevant to your lifestyle and place of residence – just do not dismiss it because you think that it doesn’t concern you. Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. And, as we age, we all want to look younger, right? Of course, sunscreen on its own will not turn the clock back and undo the damage done, but while preventing further damage, it helps your skin to renew on its own and gives other actives that you use to improve your skin a better chance to work.
In conclusion, I want to share with you two useful considerations that you won’t read in every article on this topic:
- Choose a sunscreen that you like how it feels applied, how it smells and how it looks on your face (with or without makeup, dependent on your preference) – otherwise, you will not want to wear it every day.
- Disregard the general recommendation to re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours: sunscreens deteriorate not from the time on the skin but from exposure to the sun. So, if you spend most of your day inside with a very limited natural light, your morning application might take you through the whole day.
Stay safe on and off the sun this summer!
Images: my own
Such a brilliant, informative and enjoyable to read post.
I cringe at the fact I used to tan in my youth, and well into my 30s only wore moisturisers with SPF 15.
I totally agree with the adage that the best sunscreen is the one you will wear. Like you, I love the Paula’s Choice tinted moisturisers with SPF 50, especially underr make up. During lockdown I have been wearing sunscreen indoors – usually SPF 30 – and then cheaper brands of SPF 50 when going out without make up. There are many more formulations that don’t feel icky to wear these days, thank goodness.
Thank you Tara.
To tell you the truth, I’m still not convinced that we all need SPF50 on a daily basis: if it provides enough protection for 2 hours outside under the bright sun, it should be a huge overkill for 15-20 minutes walk from a subway to the office or a couple of reflected rays here and there while being inside. And all those extra chemicals just cannot be completely harmless.
What I meant to say was that probably you did the main part of the damage by tanning and not by using “just” SPF15.
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I can beat you, Tara…I was into my 40s having baulked at applying any sunscreen higher than SPF 2 on my body, and 4 on my face! I think it is a generational thing. Some of my friends fried themselves in Johnson’s Baby Oil or olive oil with no factors at all. When I went to Australia in the 90s I was shocked to learn that you couldn’t buy any sunscreen with less than SPF 8. ;)
I am definitely a lost cause now, with brown spots and wrinkles and all sorts, though I do wear PC tinted moisturiser with SPF 30 now *any day I get dressed*, whether I go out or not. I was aware of the sun’s effects through windows, ever since watching a programme which featured a lady coach driver who had lots more sun damage on the right side of her face which was nearest the window(!). I have not yet got into the habit of wearing sunscreen while stil in my pyjamas (also today), though never say never.
Timely advice! I grew up in SW Florida and baked in the sun. At 54, I thought it was a lost cause but 20 years ago, I started using a nightly retinol, daily Vitamin C in the morning, and moisturizer with licorice and niacinamide at night. My skin has improved so that I don’t need foundation any more! An inexpensive moisturizer that will lighten age spots, is Cetaphil Redness Relieving Night Moisturizer. It contains licorice and niacinamide. ($14)
Australian Gold Mineral SPF 50 sunscreen ($15) is lightweight, waterproof, and comes in three colors. Also dupes as a primer for foundation.
Timeless skin care makes reasonable priced Vitamin C ($20).
I want to try Cetaphil! Thank you for the recommendation. It has extremely good rating on Beautypedia.
For some reason I can’t use waterproof sunscreens other than when I plan to swim: I feel like my skin doesn’t breathe. It might be all in my head, but since it bothers me, I try not to use those “out of place.”
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I hear you. I mainly need a waterproof sunscreen that will survive my hot flashes!! :)
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Hmm… Now when you put it this way… :)
Have you tried Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ Sunscreen? It’s waterproof and surprisingly light and not greasy.
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I haven’t tried Ultimate Sun Protector lotion, I’ll look into it, thank you!
Turns out, I have the Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ for sensitive skin, in the lighter blue bottle. I love it but it definitely leaves a white cast to the skin, which me being Mediterranean, has me looking a little too pale pink. I love the PC sunscreen, but it also has a cool undertone, which doesn’t work.
I adore ANESSA Perfect UV Sunscreen, it’s light, non-greasy, and velvety feeling. The downside – it’s expensive. I also like Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence Sunscreen. Missha formerly made sunscreens that were excellent, but I think they are reformulating their sun care line.
Can you tell I have too many sunscreens? ;)
I had a great Aunt who sunbathed (on a sail boat on the Mediterranean, no less), she passed away from skin cancer. It left an impression me for sure.
ANESSA Perfect UV Suncreen has my name on it! (Nearly….;) )
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Nah, it’s never too many! :)
The one that I tried is in a dark blue bottle. Those two have absolutely different composition. “Yours” has zinc – I think this is what produces the white cast. The one that is in the dark blue bottle seems completely transparent.
It’s never too late to stop adding damage! Though, I predict that 10 years from now we’ll learn that “recommended” today amount of SPF (1.25 ml of SPF50 + re-application every 2 hours) is not that healthy or necessary.
I would suggest finding a good moisturizer (not tinted) with SPF20-30 and use it on the PJ days: I agree with you that tinted moisturizer feels too “dressy” for staying at home routine.
Very informative post! I try to stay out of the sun even with sunscreen when I am outside. I only occasionally wear sunscreen indoors 😱 but will try to remember going forward.
At the beginning of the pandemic and through April (this year), I was very behind in reading Readers’ Digest but now I am happy to note that I am now reading The February 2021 issue. Anyway, the reason I brought this up is in one of the articles in a 2020 issue, the premise was that as humans, we do need sunlight and a good number of ailments have gotten worst over the years as people spent less and less rime outdoors. It did not diminish the real danger of skin cancer but it also encouraged responsible “sunning”.
As to the products I use, I used to use Neutrogena, but once I discovered La Mer, I have pretty much used it exclusively for my face, neck and ears. I also use it on my arms. For larger skin surfaces, I do still use Neutrogena. Perhaps I should try Paula’s Choice!
If La Mer works for you, I wouldn’t switch to PC for your face. But I definitely recommend her body sunscreen: it is very pleasant, absorbs well and doesn’t feel greasy.
I also try to stay off the sun in addition to using sunscreen. I didn’t want to bore everyone with all of my “issues,” but in addition to easily burning, I also have sensitivity to sun, so over exposure causes sun rush, which sunscreens alone don’t prevent. So, I try to limit my “sunning” to an absolute minimum :)
I get that sun rash, too. I was so embarrassed about it as a kid, me all covered in sunburn and rash and my pals all lovely and tan. Now I realize I was the lucky one. I knew the sun was killer for me so I stayed away from it as much as possible. I have had one skin cancer removed from my thigh a few years ago but that’s all, thank goodness. I rode my bike a lot wearing shorts as a kid so my thighs got a fair amount of sun.
Let’s stay safe! Sun is not our friend.
Great info. I remember using baby oil as a teenager trying to get a quick tan. Had a few horrible sunburns before colllege, but prettymuch ended my tanning career after that, thankfully. A friends grandmother told me to wear a face lotion with spf every day when I was a freshman in college visiting for Thanksgiving. I took that advice to heart and have done so ever since; I am relatively free of sun damage on my face as a result (I wish I had put it on my hands, too!). I use mineral sunscreen (currently EltaMD) every day regardless of whether I plan to go out. It took several tries to find a product that I liked (and o continue to try new ones in case they are better). I have a whole wardrobe – tinted, non tinted, “beach” sunscreen, several body sunscreens (I do sports photography so I have to remember my neck and arms!)
I think that in day-to-day life I also neglected my hands. I’m better now. But I have some spots that I use as test for skincare I use on my face hoping to get a more even skin tone. For example, I can tell that both Paula’s Choice vitamin c serum and spot treatment don’t help my skin much in terms of lightening by hyperpigmentation. But I keep experimenting ;)
Great post. Thanks. The sun and I have never, ever gotten along. Every year when I would be dragged to swimming lessons I knew it would result in a painful sunburn. I use sunscreen every day as well. My Northern European ancestry prepared me for clouds and cold, not the Florida sun, so I use rashguard clothing, Solumbra hats and lots of sunscreen. My favorite is Elta, MD, recommended by my dermatologist.
I also use rushguard when I go to Hawaii! I swim in a regular swimsuit only if we go for a swim before the sunset.
I was recommended Elta MD by a dermatologist as well but when I tried it many years ago, I didn’t like it. I tried one of their tinted sunscreens today and liked it more. We’ll see which one(s) will join me this summer.
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I use the tinted one, but I want to try Paula’s choice now, too.
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DRMTLGY makes a great tinted sunscreen that’s an exact dupe for EltaMD, but it’s only $23 dollars.
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Interesting. Will look into it as well.
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