The Truth About the Sun and Sunscreens

I've been touting the benefits of protecting your skin from the sun for over 20 years since I became a practicing Dermatologist. All it takes is one day in a dermatology office observing chronic exposure to the skin and the damage it causes to convince you to not want your skin to become crispy like a rotisserie chicken. While I know that the sun provides us with the ultimate energy source and I, myself, am a sun-seeker, I also struggle with giving the right advice to my patients knowing the long-term effects of chronic sun exposure on the skin. If we are going to live to the age of 40, no one would require sun protection. But, since we now have the ability to live to age 120 and beyond, the use of sun protection to ensure our skin is as healthy as we are as we age, is essential. The problem arises with complete avoidance of the sun and the resulting health consequences from lack of Vitamin D. I also do not believe the only benefits from the sun are obtained from vitamin D. In fact, many people can lie in the sun all day and still not achieve optimal Vitamin D levels, especially those with darker skin that do not live on/near the equator.

As a phenomenal energy source, we have recently begun to understand the power of light and the spectrum of non-Ultraviolet rays and their benefit for the skin. This is as important as just getting into nature every day and grounding with the Earth. There are so many benefits that we can't even measure from being one with nature in the simplest capacity possible. No matter how busy our lives are, I urge you to get outside for 15 minutes first thing in the morning and allow the sunlight to calibrate your circadian rhythm and provide health benefits to your eyes and body. Doing it barefoot in the grass is even more beneficial. Think about the time that you were able to run in the grass or walk on the sand and how good you felt. Why externalize and look for answers outside of yourself when nature has all the resources for you to achieve optimal health and vitality? All of this is at all of our fingertips with no one to profit and the only gains are your own. Simple. Achievable. Free.

Now, what I do believe is protecting the areas of your body that are exposed all year to the sun and the elements if you do plan on living a long time. Or, if you are vain and don't want wrinkles and brown spots and broken blood vessels. So what do you look for in a sunscreen and how do you do it properly?

1) The use of protective clothing and hats is significantly more effective then slapping on some cream so if you truly desire to protect yourself from the harmful ultraviolet radiation to what I call the "high real estate" area of your face, neck, chest, and back of your hands, wear a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses (to avoid crows feet squinting), and apply a physical (not chemical sunscreen) before leaving the house everyday. Most people erroneously believe that if they are not outside all day, they don't need sunscreen. I am a true believer in the compound effect and even when you think you're not outside, your skin is getting exposed to UVA (deep-penetrating Aging rays) through windows, when walking to and from buildings, getting your mail, walking the dog, etc. Even 10 minutes of incidental UV exposure a day adds up to over 50+ hours a year. As most people would not go to the beach for 50 hours without protecting their skin from the sun, remember this and be consistent with it daily. As far as hats, there are many great companies. I specifically love the Sundancer hat from It travels well and washes well, and I even use it under my bike helmet when I mountain bike. Besides doing a great job at protecting my facial and neck skin, I often have the opportunity for many interesting conversations because of this look :-)

2) When looking for sunscreen, I recommend looking for any product with an SPF 30 and higher that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. The tinted variety is especially attractive for many women as it doubles as a make-up primer. I use tinted sunscreen as my makeup and nothing else and find that it works really well at both preventing brown spots, but also at evening out skin tone (reds and browns). The difference between a $10 sunscreen and a $50 sunscreen comes down to cosmetic elegance and how it feels on the skin. The more expensive varieties may not be more effective, but you will want to use them because they are lightweight and don't feel like you're wearing saran wrap on your face. I also like the tinted variety because it contains iron oxide that helps broaden the spectrum of protection of light to help with melasma and those struggling with pigmentation.

3) One of the most important tips for properly applying sunscreen that I can give everyone from observing skin over the years is to apply your sunscreen from the outside and blend it in. Many people apply it centrally to their face and have very poor coverage to the lateral part of their face, which then develops a lot of sun damage, course wrinkles, brown spots, and broken vessels. Do not forget your neck and decolletage and then swipe the rest on the back of your hands. I often look for water resistant versions because I spent a lot of time doing outside activities. I also find that when applied to the back of my hands, it stays on longer.

4) Your internal health determines your skin health. To be honest, if your immune system is strong and balanced, your body will naturally protect itself from sun damage and it will be less likely to develop a skin cancer than someone with a weak immune system. Don't be deceived in believing that you won't get sun damage, you still will have irregular discoloration of your skin with chronic sun exposure. Also, the foods that you choose to eat can naturally impart some protective effects on your skin. If you choose high-quality, organic, colorful fruits and vegetables, their phytonutrients will protect you from the sun damage - acting as an internal spf to some degree. Also, choosing high-quality omega-3 rich fats from nuts, Coldwater wild fish, flaxseed, avocado, grass fed meat, and pasture raised chicken and eggs will also benefit your skin from the inside out. .There is a natural Fernblock extract called polypodium leucotomas that can be found in a number of supplements, such as Heliocare and SunSafe Rx, that also helps protect your skin from UV-induced DNA damage. I find it very helpful to take daily or if you will be in the sun for extended periods of time. It's also been shown in a number of studies to help with melasma and pigmentation disorders

If you have any topics of interest that you would like me to discuss in future blogs, please send me a note at

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© 2018 by Haley MD.