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It's okay to love the sun (we do too!). But how protected is your skin? Not so much, surveys show. Only one-third of us regularly slather on sunscreen, despite the fact that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer, says Jeanine Downie, MD, a dermatologist in Montclair, New Jersey. Even scarier: Melanoma, the deadliest form, more than doubled in the last three decades among women under 40. If you regularly reach for sunscreen, bravo! You're cutting your risk of cancer and preserving your skin. If your SPF is MIA, we've got a plan to bust your excuses, plus loads of tips and tricks that will give you a healthy glow -- for life.The Golden Rules of Gorgeous Skin
Memorize this short list to keep your skin safe -- and young looking.Slather on sunscreen...
SPF 15 was once the standard dermatologist recommendation for daily sunscreen. But many doctors say SPF 30 is the new 15. "Most people don't use enough sunscreen. Unless you always apply the correct amount -- a teaspoonful for the face and an ounce for the body -- you don't get the level of protection listed on the label," says Dr. Downie. Increasing the SPF helps compensate for a light-handed approach. Another reason to go higher: Although no sunscreen shields you from 100 percent of UV light, SPF 30 offers 96.5 percent protection versus SPF 15's 93.5 percent -- and more protection (even just 3 percent) is always a bright idea when it comes to safeguarding your skin.
Fact: People with pale skin have the highest chance of developing all three types of skin cancer. And having a history of sunburns increases these already elevated odds. "Just one blistering burn doubles the risk of melanoma," says Lori Brightman, MD, a dermatologist at Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York.
Fix: Apply one ounce of sunscreen (about a palmful) to skin 30 minutes before heading outside. It takes that long for the active ingredients to kick in. Sky-high SPF levels (70! 80! 90!) are your best choice. "SPF measures the amount of time you should be able to stay in the sun without burning -- the higher the number, the longer skin should stay protected," says Kenneth Mark, MD, a clinical assistant professor in New York University's dermatology department. Reapply every two hours -- more frequently if you take a dip or sweat a lot.
Fact: Perspiration from your sweat session allows UV rays to pass easily through the skin, causing it to burn more quickly, says Patricia Agin, PhD, a skincare researcher at the Coppertone Solar Research Center in Memphis. Some dermatologists believe that's a major reason marathoners have an increased risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.
Fix: Take your workout indoors or try to schedule outside time at sunrise or sunset; the sun's rays are strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunscreens labeled "100 percent waterproof" or "sweatproof" last about 90 minutes, unlike "water-resistant" kinds, which lose their potency after 40 minutes, Dr. Mark explains. Reapply every hour and a half -- or immediately after a swim or workout. Use an extra coat on your nose and lower legs, which are hot spots for melanoma. And try a stick or thicker lotion on your face. "They're less likely to run into your eyes than sprays, which work better on your body," Dr. Brightman says.Your SPF Excuse: "I don't burn easily. And a little color can't hurt, right?"
Fact: A tan may look innocent (especially compared with an obviously unhealthy burn), but "even just a slight change in skin color is a direct sign of sun damage," Dr. Mark says. Besides leading to freckling, age spots, and premature wrinkles, a bronze tone indicates that free radicals from the sun's rays have injured your cells' DNA, which can set off a chain reaction that eventually leads to skin cancer. Everyone is susceptible to it, no matter what his or her skin color is.
Fix: Repeat after us: The only healthy tan is a fake one -- meaning one that comes from a bottle. Bronzers are like makeup for your body, tinting skin until you shower off. Self-tanners contain DHA (a safe, sugar-derived ingredient) to make you look like a beach babe for up to a week. How? The sugar reacts with the proteins in your top, dead skin layers, creating a brownish tone. For color and protection, try a two-in-one sunscreen with SPF plus a splash of bronzer or DHA.
If you have an outdoor oops, head inside and practice the 3-S rule to banish the burn.Swallow an Anti-Inflammatory
"Take two aspirin or ibuprofen every four to six hours to relieve pain and redness," says Dr. Mark.Shower with Tepid Water
Cold H2O can be drying, so stick to room temperature, which tightens capillaries and soothes irritation. Lather up with a glycerin-rich body wash (try Nivea Touch of Smoothness Moisturizing Body Wash, $5.99, drugstores) to hydrate, then pat dry.Slather on Aloe
Immediately apply a gel version (a good one: Vaseline Aloe Fresh Moisturizing Daily Body Gel, $5.49, drugstores) to lock in moisture; avoid anything with drying alcohol. Slather it on throughout the day to prevent peeling. (On the go? Tote a portable spray such as Vichy Thermal Spa Water, $7, vichyusa.com.)
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2009.