Sun Protection Philosophy

A “Healthy Tan” 

A lesser known legacy of Coco Chanel is that she is often credited with popularizing the suntan.  After disembarking from a cruise on the French Riviera, a photograph of her bronzed skin inspired generations to come.  Legend has it that her friend, Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucigne, said, “I think she may have invented sunbathing. At that time, she invented everything.”   Below, I’ll discuss why you should skip the tan (but please don’t get rid of your quilted purses, tweed jackets, and pearls).

Why protect your skin from the sun?  

We all know that sunburns can be uncomfortable.  There are other invisible threats of sunlight on the skin.  The sun’s rays are composed of many different wavelengths, including UVA, UVB, and visible light that each affect the skin differently.  UVB has the shortest wavelength and tends to cause the most damage to skin at a given dose, with clear links to sunburn, photoaging, skin cancer (melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell carcinomas) and modulation of the skin’s immune system.  Although UVA has a lesser impact at the same dose, the sun has 10-20 times the levels of UVA as compared with UVB. Lastly, visible light is implicated in causing unwanted darkening of skin, such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (read: dark spots that persist after a rash or a pimple) in darker skin types. 

If my skin is dark, do I really need to worry about the sun?

Yes.  More darkly pigmented skin is more protected against UV-induced skin cancer and has less pronounced and delayed photoaging, though may still suffer from sun-related conditions, including: seborrheic keratoses (see: Morgan Freeman, who has a variant called DPN), melasma, and hyperpigmentation (unwanted dark spots).

Ok, so how do I protect myself from the sun?

Avoidance

As a general rule, stay out of the sun as much as possible between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.  This does not mean that you are free of risk outside of these hours, but the sun tends to be less strong.  Shade decreases your risk of sun damage but does not entirely protect you; in one study, 78% of those sitting under a beach umbrella got sunburn versus 25% of those wearing sunscreen only.  Lastly, this should go without saying, but tanning beds are a huge no-no: they are not safer than the sun and a base tan does not protect you from skin cancer (click here if you’re not convinced).

Sun protective clothing 

I’d like to think I look glamorous in my hat, big sunglasses, and long sleeve UV protective shirt, but they also allow me to enjoy the outdoors safely.  Click here for a post on sun protective clothing for specific brand recommendations.  

Sunscreen 

This should be the last layer in your protection.  I recommend using sunscreen with physical, not chemical protection. Click here for a post on sunscreen for specific product recommendations and tips on applying sunscreen.  

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