What You Must Know About Basic Skincare: Sunscreen

He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking. ~Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The sun is the absolute perfect example of "all things in moderation." We need it to live and be happy and healthy just as we equally need to limit our exposure and protect ourselves from it. If you want to have beautiful skin, you must protect it from the sun. It is the only way. The sun's rays are by far the number one thing that will damage your skin and therefore, age you.

Since moving to a southern beach (where everyone is out in the sun all the time) from the northern mountains (where no one is ever out in the sun) almost four years ago, I can tell you the number one issue I've seen with my clients here is premature aging due to increased sun exposure, even in women as young as 23. I've also noticed that my own skin has started to show signs of aging more in the past few years than in all the previous ones combined. Prematurely aged skin has the following characteristics:

~ Deep lines and wrinkles where the skin moves most: around the eyes, around the lips, from the nose to the mouth, the 'eleven' between your eyes, etc.

~ Brown spots (called hyper-pigmentation). These spots are a result of repeated sun exposure, which damages skin, which leads to inflammation, which leads to brown spots. These spots occur in the deepest bottom layer of your skin, so they are extremely difficult to treat once they are there. I've spoken to many clients who have tried laser treatments to remove them, and usually even laser does not work. The only answer of how to effectively deal with brown spots is to prevent them in the first place. We'll talk about what to do once you have them in a later post...it's a whole separate complex subject!

~ Sagging/ loss of firmness. The skin moves more than it should when stretched, and 'hangs' lower than it should when resting. This is because the sun's rays break down the network of support fibers under your skin (collagen and elastin). This also contributes to a 'thinning' of skin, another sign of aging. A young, healthy skin is plump, juicy, full of life and water. Too much sun breaks all of this down.

~ A dull appearance/ lack of radiance. This has many causes, and one if them is due to increased DNA damage. The sun's rays damage and alter the genes in the nucleus of your skin cells. Therefore, when they replicate, the new cell that is produced is a damaged one, so it will not look or act in a healthy manner. This contributes to all of the above problems, too.

The fact is, healthy and young-looking skin has everything to do with sun protection, protection in general via moisturizing and healthy diet, and prevention. The problem is, when girls are young enough to actually prevent future signs of aging/damage, they don't. They don't think about it, and even if they're told, they don't believe it. They live in the moment. A tanned, glowing, beautiful body and face is a thing of loveliness, it's true. When you're twenty. When you're forty, or even thirty, you will be freaking out because your skin looks like the above list, and you will be willing to do all kinds of crazy things and spend ridiculous amounts of money to try to fix what you could have prevented in the first place...often without success. It doesn't have to be this way, and there is always hope if you want it bad enough and are willing to put in the effort.

The silver lining in all of this, is it is also equally true that we need some sun to be our healthiest and happiest selves. Our bodies use sunlight to produce Vitamin D, which is crucial in maintaining a strong immune system (which is one of the reasons why acne breakouts clear up after you get some sun). Vitamin D also regulates cell growth and replication. As we age, both our immune system and rate of cell replication decreases. Sunlight is the antidote to this. How ironic that the thing that ages us most also holds the key to keeping us young ;-) Sunlight makes us happy. It elevates our mood and makes us feel contented, joyful, and peaceful, all of which are essential to living a healthy life. Since sunlight is necessary to maintain a healthy (i.e. younger) body and mind, what is a person to do?

What To Do, How, and Why

What: Protect! Apply a natural sunscreen every morning. Cleanse, moisturize, and apply sunscreen. My favorite sunscreen by far, out of all the different ones I've ever tried, is Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 30, Active Lifestyles. Aubrey makes several different ones: SPF 15, 30, and 45, as well as unscented, and one for body and another for face. I prefer to use SPF 30 on both face and body, but you may find a different formula works best for you. It is found in most health-food stores, and online. It varies in price from about $7-$15.

How: Just like any time you apply anything to your skin, sunscreen should be applied as gently as possible (with gentle pressure so as not to stretch the skin too much) and cover every inch of your skin. In this case, every area that is exposed (face...don't forget around your eyes, and ears, neck, chest, hands in fall and winter when you're wearing a lot of clothing, and everywhere in the spring and summer when you're not wearing much at all. ;-) Start with a nickel-sized amount for your face and neck, and obviously much more to cover your entire body. You will find that this product is heavy, and will leave a subtle but temporary 'whiteness' on your skin. This is a good thing, since you can actually see the product doing what it's supposed to do: create a layer of protection. This 'whiteness' is short-lived, and will disappear once it sinks into your skin.

Why?

This sunscreen is best for many reasons:

1. It protects using physical sunscreen ingredients. There are two types of sunscreens: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide work by reflecting the sun's rays. Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun's rays. Notice I didn't say they 'work by'...because they don't work. Chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, etc, not only do not protect you from the sun, they cause significant harm to your body. They create free radicals (damaging molecules), mimic hormones, and cause inflammation...all of which are contributing factors of aging and cancer. I strongly suggest staying far away from products like Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone, etc, for these reasons. 

 2. In addition to protecting you from the sun, it also contains many highly beneficial ingredients that nourish and moisturize your skin. Because of this, I will often skip moisturizing most of my face in the morning (with the exception of around my eyes and mouth) in the hottest summer months, allowing this product to double as a moisturizer.

3. It really works! You will find that your skin does not burn, but you will still gradually tan over time. I am incredibly fortunate to live just a minute's walk away from the beach, so needless to say, I spend a lot of time there! Although I religiously apply this sunscreen every day during the summer, I still get extremely tan. By August, I usually stay out of the sun as much as possible...instead I choose to lay under my umbrella and always wear my huge floppy sun hats. As I said, some color from the sun is a beautiful thing, but always in moderation.

Which leads to my next point:

Just like most, if not all, things in life, you have to know who you are and what you want most in order to make decisions that are best for you as an individual. If you are going to do something that is potentially damaging to your body, you need to know that it is damaging, and weigh that decision against what you ultimately want most. That is really the meaning behind, "Knowledge is power." Do you want more than anything to stay young-looking as long as possible? Then limit your sun exposure to no more than twenty minutes a day (so you still gain the benefits of Vitamin D) and stay completely protected at all times. Do you want to embrace life and live it fully in each moment? Then soak up the sun if that's what you want to do. But understand that it will come at a price.

Personally, when I do something damaging, such as lay out and soak up the sun like a plant in spring after a long winter, it's because I understand exactly what it is that I'm doing, so I can then take steps to counter-act the damage with something extraordinarily healthy and helpful. Steps such as eating organic, unprocessed, plant-based foods whenever possible, using skin care products without any synthetic chemicals (it doesn't get any cleaner than raw Shea butter!) and having a positive attitude and relaxed outlook as often as possible (because your emotions have a direct impact on your overall health). The truth is, anything that is good for you can also hurt you. Relax and let loose with a few glasses of wine (good thing) and you also dehydrate the crap out of your body (bad thing). Eat a cupcake because its delicious and makes you happy (good thing) and you also create a whole host of damage to your body due to the sugar (bad thing). Fall deeply in love with someone (the best thing there is) and you can get your heart broken (one of the worst things there is). Once you know yourself enough to know you are willing to pay the potential price for whatever that thing is, then you can proceed with intelligence and confidence to know you also have the power to counter-act any negative that comes your way. That includes the sun.