Sunburn. Brown spots. Dry skin. Enlarged pores. Wrinkles. Skin cancer. All of these are signs of too much sun on our faces. But we can't live indoors when outdoor activities like swimming, running, walking, hiking, tennis, baseball, pickleball, soccer, or skiing can improve our mental and physical health. Just don't forget to protect yourself from the sun—especially your face!
UVA, UVB, and Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the number one cancer in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point. It most commonly occurs on areas of our body regularly exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays: the face, neck, and scalp.
A daily application of sunscreen is your first line of defense against skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a minimum SPF of 30. Broad spectrum ensures that the sunscreen blocks UVA and UVB rays. But according to Jessica Donigan, MD, FAAD, assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at University of Utah Health, UVB rays are more threatening in terms of skin cancer.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen
Sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of how much UV radiation it takes to cause a sunburn when wearing sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection. Here are some important sun protection facts to ensure you are properly protecting your skin:
- SPF 100 doesn't offer double the protection of SPF 50.
- No SPF blocks 100% of the sun's UV rays.
- SPF does not equate to the time it takes to get sunburned.
- You can use regular sunscreen on your face, but the versions that are designed to use on the face are non-comedogenic, meaning they don't clog pores or cause acne.
- Don't skip the sunscreen if you use a foundation with SPF. Use sunscreen or a moisturizer with an SPF first. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests using a powdered mineral sunscreen over makeup throughout the day to ensure you stay protected.
Don't Skip the Lips
The skin of our lips is thinner and contains less melanin than other skin, making it just as important to protect the lips with a lip balm containing at least SPF 15. Don't forget to reapply at least every two hours. Not using sunscreen on your lips could lead to a precancerous condition called actinic cheilitis, a condition that leads to rough scaly patches on your lips, especially the lower lip.
If you have dried, chapped lips, which often happens with sun exposure, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a non-irritating lip balm that includes ingredients such as castor seed oil, mineral oil, shea butter, white petroleum jelly, and/or ceramides. Avoid using products with flavorings, menthol, camphor, eucalyptus, salicylic acid, or lanolin.
UV Rays and Your Eyes
Although you want to avoid getting sunscreen in your eyes, it is important to protect the skin around the eyes as well as your eyes. Donigan suggests a stick sunscreen to avoid getting sunscreen in the eyes. Don't forget to shield your face and your children's faces with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, too. Sunglasses should provide 100% UVA and UVB protection. Look for "sunnies" labeled UV400 to make sure. UV exposure to the eyes can lead to cataracts later in life.
Be careful if...
When sunny days are calling you to go outdoors, protecting your face from sun damage is a priority. Be especially careful if:
- You have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
- You are fair skinned, naturally light-headed, or red-headed
- You have a condition that lowers your immune system
- You live in or travel to tropical climates and high altitudes
One final note from Donigan: Combining multiple sun protective measures—sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and avoidance of direct exposure to the sun when the sun's rays are the strongest—is the most effective way to reduce the risk of skin cancer and still have a great time.