Dermatologist Approved Skin Damage Risks, Plus The Best Prevention Methods To Keep You Looking Like Your Gorgeous Self

The knowledge that the sun damages our skin is so ever-present and powerful that there is no excuse not to use a broad-spectrum SPF every day. And I don’t know too many people who don’t. But what if I told you that sunscreen and moisturizer are not enough to prevent skin cancer, fine lines and a whole slew of other maladies that those rays — you know, the ones we've been desperately looking forward to soaking up — can cause?

In my 20s, I moisturized every night and slathered on an SPF-laced BB cream every morning. I thought I was earning my skin care gold stars, but as it turns out, there were some glaring holes in my regimen. Because of that, some basic habits — such as commuting, running, and occasional base tanning — made room for sun damage to creep up on me.

I interviewed Dr. Ricardo Pollitt and Dr. Tivon Sidorsky of South Shore Skin Center in Norwell, MA about skin damage risks and prevention. If I could go back in time to visit my twentysomething self, I would shout these tips at her with a megaphone. Whatever your age, though, it's never too late to follow these guidelines.

Even though I failed to take the needed steps in the past, there are (thank goodness) tips and equipment that we can use to get our skin back on the healthy track at any age. Because everyone should be able to put their best face forward! 

Risk: Red And Blonde Hair 

The skin of northern Europeans tends to contain less melanin — a natural substance that protects us from the sun's rays. This means fair folks, and particularly redheads, are often at risk of early skin damage. "Red-haired people have more pheomelanin, which is less effective than the eumelanin that the rest of us mainly have," Dr. Pollit explains. "Pheomelanin results from a mutation that makes the melanin less effective, putting fair-haired folks at greater risk for skin cancer." 

Prevention: Find A Moisturizing Sunscreen You LOVE To Put On; Use Retinoids

No matter what your coloring is, use a high-numbered, broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen during the day every day, and reapply it. Yes, that's right: REAPPLY IT. I keep a bottle of Aveeno Positively Radiant SPF 30 moisturizer on my desk at work, and I slather it on my face before leaving the office for lunch, then again before leaving to commute home. Start doing this now! It feels like a treat for your skin if you buy a product you like. (Hint: You should love the smell!) Even if you haven't been using an SPF every day, starting now will help prevent further damage. 

Retinoids, too, work wonders. These Vitamin A derivatives can cause a bit of irritation at first, but trust me: Stick with it. Retinoids are proven to improve skin's texture and when used in conjunction with an SPF, they help prevent further skin damage. 

Risk: Running Outdoors 

I am 100 percent guilty of skipping out the door for a sans-sunscreen run. Big mistake! "Something people don't know is how much sunscreen we're actually supposed to put on to get the advertised SPF," says Dr. Pollitt. "You need a whole shot glass worth to cover the body," adds Dr. Sidorsky, to get the needed protection from a squirt. And you need to reapply regularly. And yes, I know, this is tough to do during a sweaty job. But there are sneaky ways to ensure protection! 

Prevention: SPF Clothing

Since we sweat some sunscreen off, hats are the best protection against the sun while working out. Clothing is a great option too, and companies like Coolibar are producing super-cute workout clothes with built-in SPF. 

Risk: Driving 

Car windows do not, as it turns out, contain enough protection from the sun's harmful rays. "Windows block most UVB rays, but not UVA rays," says Dr. Sidorsky. "While UVB does the most damage to your skin, UVA also damages it. This is one reason that pilots have higher rates of melanoma," adds Dr. Pollitt. This is also why many women are at risk for more age spots and skin cancer on the left side of the face.

Prevention: Remember To Apply And Reapply For Commuting, IPL Treatments

I know it seems obvious, but (megaphone voice) sunscreen should be your motto! Skin cancer is real. Prior to your commute, think of SPF creams as your warrior paint. Yes, even in winter. And yes, even if it's cloudy. And yes, even on your commute home.

IPL or "intense pulsed light" treatments can also rejuvenate skin, helping to decrease hyper-pigmentation and promote cell turnover... this treatment can only make an impact if you continue using a super-high SPF, though. 

Risk: Social Smoking 

It's no secret that cigarettes contain skin-damaging chemicals. We've all woken up after a night of partying, looked in the mirror, and frowned. (And I'd guess that often, the reason for this is that "social" smoke you snuck.) If you needed to hear it again, hear this: Those smokes you sneak, no matter how few, are definitely causing wrinkles

Prevention: Don't Smoke, Ever!

"The two best things people can do for their skin would be to stop smoking and to wear sunscreen. Smoking causes wrinkles and can cause skin cancer," says Dr. Pollitt. Cigarette smoke wreaks havoc on collagen and elastin, fibers that give the skin strength and elasticity.

Risk: Tanning Booths And "Base Tans"

"The idea of a base tan is something people should abandon," says Dr. Pollitt. And he's right: Any exposure to UVB and UVA rays causes damage to the skin, and the damage doesn't stop at wrinkles. "Studies suggest that tanning booth use can lead to melanoma," says Dr. Sidorsky.

Prevention: Abandon The Idea Of A "Base Tan" And Use Self Tanner Instead 

Stop going to tanning booths and switch to products that can help you achieve that golden look. There are so many fake tanning products to choose from that there is no reason not to use those to get your glow on.

Images: Flickr/mytudut; Flickr/hans905; Flickr/thomashawk; Flickr/ThaigoMartins; Flickr/SuperFantasitic; Flickr/evilerin

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