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