With summer in full swing, the sun’s ultraviolet rays continue their relentless and often insidious assault on our skin. For some the damage is not so insidious as after a day at the beach or on the course, where the bright red first degree burn stings in the morning shower. In addition to the well-known risks of skin cancer associated with sun burns or chronic sun exposure, accelerated skin aging is another untoward side effect of the sun’s damaging UV light. We all know the protective effect of sunscreen, but two recent studies have shed light on some interesting facts about them. A Consumer Reports survey established that some of the most expensive sunscreens don’t offer as much protection as their cheaper counterparts because the amount of sun protection factor (SPF) was actually much less than labeled. Then a recent study in Annals of Internal Medicine showed that daily sunscreen application actually slowed skin aging. The researchers noticed this while analyzing data for a skin cancer study. They looked at 900 participants under the age of 55 where one randomized group was instructed to use SPF 15 sunscreen daily versus another group who could use it as they wanted. The daily sunscreen users showed no detectable increase in skin aging after 4.5 years as determined by microtopography and 24% less aging than those in the other group when compared to baseline. So based on conclusions of these studies we should apply an inexpensive daily sunscreen of SPF 15 if we want to slow skin aging. (As an aside, there is very little added benefit with increasing SPF over 30.) Even as a plastic surgeon who’s interest is in aesthetics and keeping people looking their best, however, I would advise that everyone get some sun exposure without sunscreen as the sun is essential for the production of vitamin D in our bodies without which we can develop rickets, a disease leading to soft bones, and other maladies. Or at least make sure you get vitamin D in your diet. Fortunately, only a few minutes of exposure a week is necessary to produce the necessary vitamin D so there is no need for prolonged, harmful sun exposure.
So don’t forget your sunscreen before heading outdoors to enjoy the summer.