Summer is quickly coming to an end, and we're already starting to see ads for the latest sunless tanners that will maintain our healthy glows after the our swimsuits get exchanged for sweaters.
The best way to have a flawless glow, even if it's fake, is to create a vibrant, healthy base by getting rid of summer sun damage, and protecting against new damage that can occur anytime you're in the sun, even in the fall and winter.
Here are the '3 P's' of sun protection:
- It doesn't work if you don't wear it. Here's the secret to sunscreen... put it on! The key to great skin that lasts a lifetime is to keep the sun rays off of it as much as possible. Sunshine and smoking will age your skin faster than anything else, so no butts in your mouth, and no "buts" about wearing sunscreen every day. There are plenty of light sunscreens that can easily be worn under makeup, just as there are a myriad of wonderful cosmetics that have some level of SPF. Make sure that you have something with a sun protection factor on your skin every time you leave the house... summer, winter, fall and spring.
- UVA vs UVB. Most sunscreens claim to block UVA and UVB rays, but all sunscreens aren't created equal when it comes to UVB. UVB rays are the key to sun damage because UVB rays are the ones that burn and damage your skin (remember UV"B" for burning). The only product that really blocks UVB radiation is zinc oxide, which is not a standard ingredient in most over the counter sunscreens. Zinc oxide is the classic white stuff that Baywatch lifeguards wear on their noses, which obviously won't work for most of us when we're not at the beach. The problem with zinc oxide is that they're aren't many great options for clear, light, non-comodogenic versions of this product. That being said, there are a few, and using one of them makes all the difference in the world in terms of truly being protected from the sun.
- Recommended Products. There are two products that I never go anywhere without. 1) La Roche Posay Antihelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid. I have oily and very sensitive skin, so I've spent years testing products in the search of a sunscreen that doesn't make me more oily, doesn't make me feel like I have a mask on, and doesn't smell like I'm on vacation. This is the first product that accomplishes all three of those goals. It's so light that it feels like you have nothing on, it has almost no odor, and it's gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin. Plus, it stays on all day and protects from burns very well. 2) Dermaquest Clear Zinc Sunscreen. This is, in my opinion, the best sunscreen on the market, except that it's not actually "on the market". It's a clinical grade product, which means that it can only be purchased through a medical office, and that it's more expensive than most over the counter products, but it's worth it. It's light enough to wear under makeup, it dries completely clear even though it has zinc oxide, and is extremely gentle on delicate skin. There's no question that it's the best product out there for everyday sun protection.
- It's the best way to treat sun damage! IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) therapy is a fantastic way to treat sun damaged skin. The light (sometimes referred to as a "laser," although it is not technically a laser) is absorbed by the damaged pigment cells on the skin's surface. This causes them to disperse and eventually disintegrate leading to less brown and red spots on your skin, and gets rid of the damaged skin cells that could potentially turn into pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions in the future.
- What is it like to get an IPL treatment? IPL is a treatment that you could easily get on your lunchbreak and go right back to work. Your skin will be a little pink and sensitive for less than an hour after the treatment, and that's essentially the only "downtime." Any brown spots that were singled out and treated in a targeted fashion will initially look darker, and then will slowly fade away over the course of a few weeks. A series of 2-3 treatments spaced about 2-3 weeks apart is always recommended for best results, especially right after the summer season when your sun damage is likely to be at its maximum.
- How is a real IPL treatment different from a "photofacial"? IPL and Photofacials are usually performed with the same machine, but they are very different treatments (at least they should be). Many media-spas use the terms interchangeably, but this is not correct. A real IPL treatment involves very fine adjustments in the treatment settings to direct the pulsed light towards specific pigments and types of damage in your skin. The treatment itself is longer, more focused, and should be performed by a highly qualified and well trained practitioner. A photofacial also utilizes pulsed light technology, but it is simply one or two passes over your skin with a set of fairly generic settings that aren't focused on any particular pigment types or levels of skin damage. Think of it this way... a photofacial is like Tylenol, and a real IPL treatment is like Percocet. They both do the same thing, but one is much more effective and requires professional supervision.
- Low Strength. Low strength, or "light", chemical peels come in several varieties, but the most common agent is glycolic acid. Glycolic peels are excellent "entry level" treatments, but can also be tailored to custom strengths to meet almost anyone's skin care goals. The lightest glycolic peels make only lead to 24 hours of minor flaking, while the stronger glycolics may leave you flaking for a few days. These peels are only mildly uncomfortable during the treatment, and very rarely lead to problems like hyperpigmentation (dark spots) or hypopigmentation (light spots). Low strength peels are excellent for the spring and summer when the sun is a bit too intense to be using stronger peels, and they are a valuable part of any clinical skin care regimen designed to do away with superficial sun damage.
- Medium Strength. Medium strength peels are typically of the TCA (trichloroacetic acid) or Lactic Acid variety. These peels will make you peel rather than flake, and the duration of the peeling can be tailored from 1 to 3 days depending on the concentration of the product. Medium strength peels burn a bit more during the treatment than lighter peels, but they product much better results in a shorter period of time. Plan on 3-4 days of downtime after a medium strength peel, but be prepared for gorgeous bright skin after it's healed!
- High Strength. The strongest peels are typically concentrated TCA or phenol solutions. These peels are only for peel veterans, or for highly sun damaged skin, and should only be performed a few times a year during seasons when the sun is less intense. The results with high strength peels can be quite dramatic in terms of refreshing the surface of your skin and removing damaged cells, but the risks of temporary hyper or hypopigmentation are higher than with lighter peels. Plan on 3-4 days of peeling, and a full week of downtime with a high strength peel.
If you have any questions about sun damage, sun protection, or any of the treatments discussed here, please feel free to leave a comment on this article, or give me a call in the office anytime. Sun protection will not only keep you looking young and healthy, but may save your life by keeping minor skin damage from turning into a bigger, more dangerous, problem like basal cell skin cancer or melanoma. Learn how to protect yourself every day.