SPF: The Fountain of Youth
As a society striving to look younger, we are in constant search to find the so-called "fountain of youth." We envision an overflowing magic potion that erases or prevents the damages of time. In my mind, there is no myth or legend behind the fact that sunscreen is
our current day fountain of youth. Aside from sun abstinence, this is the closest thing we have to bathe in that will keep us aging gracefully.
My earliest memories outdoors involve the inevitable slather of sunscreen by my mother. This sunscreen, of course, was the serious stuff. It was the thick kind that left a white, embarrassing residue wherever it was applied. I didn't quite grasp at the time what that greasy shield was protecting me from. She was very convincing that it was necessary, but for me it was just a sticky obstacle in the way of my day. I would later learn that this extra step was to protect my skin against ultraviolet light - protection against changes I wouldn't see for years to come.
Those same rays that tan, or burn, our skin are the UV rays responsible for photo damage. Think hyperpigmentation (brown spots), hypopigmentation (light or even depigmented areas, specifically on arms and legs), blood vessels, wrinkles and the rough texture that we strive to reverse. Not to mention the fact that such photo damage has the potential to form cancerous growths. Now as a clinician, I recommend daily use of a broadband sunscreen that covers both UVA and UVB rays. The SPF (sun protection factor - or in this case fountain) number tells us how much protection we are getting from UVB rays. An SPF of 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays. Any SPF above that plateaus around 98.5% until you get to 100 SPF, which blocks 99.2% of UVB rays. Typically, the higher SPFs can be more irritating and also give a false sense of security that re-application is not necessary. No matter what the SPF, you must reapply. For daily use I recommend an SPF of 30 for the face, décolletage, neck and hands (ladies please don't forget those pretty, spotless hands!) For outdoor activities such as golf or swimming, you must reapply every 2 hours and go with a higher SPF of around 50. My favorite sunscreens are physical blocks. Physical blocks, unlike chemical sunscreens, do not allow the permeation of rays. There are great mineral sunscreens made specifically for the face, which I will write about in a future blog (stay tuned!).
With the addition of each new cosmeceutical that claims to turn back the hands of time, I am skeptical. I am a fan of growth factors, retinoids and antioxidants, and I believe all of these products have their proper place in skin care. However, no other product serves the anti-photo aging purpose quite like sunscreen. Now as I apply my daily (albeit tinted and silky) sunscreen, I think of my early childhood frustration and compliance with the product. It was not until I began studying dermatology that I became such a true believer myself. It is amazing what seeing thousands of sun damaged patients a year will do to your outdoor social life. Although I may not have understood it at the time, I am beyond grateful for those early sunscreen lessons. Thanks, Mom. Yet again, you were right.