There is no hiding it, we're slackers when it comes to applying daily sunscreen. The appalling number of yearly skin cancer diagnoses according to the Skin Cancer Foundation — basal cell (4 million), squamous cell (1 million) and melanomas (87,110 expected in 2017) should be incentive — but it's not.
We figure the damage is already done. Not so, says David Leffell, a Yale University professor of dermatology and surgery. "The horse is out of the barn," he says, "but not out of the corral. Starting sun protection at any age will be beneficial."
Here's a guide for summer
You can't make a DIY skin cancer diagnosis. We've all seen the scary photos of skin cancer signs to look for, but unless a spot is scabby, crusty or clearly strange, we ignore it and wait until it's too late. "A spot that does not heal and/or starts to bleed may be a basal or squamous cell cancer," Leffel says. "It's not melanoma. Those danger signs are a mole that changes in shape, size or color, or itches ... or a new pigmented spot. Most spots will turn out to be benign, but err on the side of a small biopsy." Start the summer with a visit to your dermatologist for a fresh head-to-toe check. Last year's exam was on last year's skin.
Every skin color is at risk. Having a deeper, darker complexion is no more protection than a pale one. We're all vulnerable to skin cancer from excessive sun exposure, past, present and future. Choose a broad-spectrum (protects against both aging UVA and burning UVB rays) sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher because it provides a better safety margin, especially since we're lazy about reapplication.
That SPF lasts only two hours max. If you lunch at an outdoor cafe, drive to see a client or take the dog for a long walk, that SPF 30 moisturizer, sunscreen or beauty balm (BB) cream you blended on at 7 a.m. is not enough. For all-day protection you need to reapply, as Leffell says, "a shot glass-size dollop of whatever broad spectrum SPF product you use to your entire face and keep reapplying when outdoors. Precancerous lesions bloom as a warning, and sun is necessary to keep precancers alive. Shut out the sun, and they may not keep growing." So rethink your routine and be prepared. Know that UVA rays go right through glass windows and clouds.
New sunscreens have beauty appeal. If you buy it and don't use it, what's the point? Half the battle is finding a broad-spectrum sunscreen that can go under and over makeup or is tinted to be worn instead of makeup. Lab wizards have finally realized women age 50-plus spend more time at work or living than at the pool, beach or doing sports, so try these:
- Creamy, airy whipped formulas — such as Coppertone Clearly Sheer Whipped Broad Sunscreen SPF 50 and Supergoop Super Power Sunscreen Mousse Broad Spectrum SPF 50, which smooth and soften dry or unevenly textured skin — feel and smell like a fancy face cream.
- Mineral formulas with no "ghostly" residue — such as Avene Complexion Correcting Shield SPF 50+ (in 3 shades) and Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 — help skin that's hormonally unstable due to menopause or sensitivity stay calm and blemish free.
- Powder sunscreens in a portable brush applicator, such as Colorscience Sunforgettable Loose Mineral Sunscreen Brush Broad Spectrum SPF 50 (5 shades) and Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral Brush-On Bronzer Broad Spectrum SPF 30. Both offer an elegant solution and allow for wearing makeup and staying protected at outdoor get-togethers.
- Age-disrupting sunscreens. Parched, sun-damaged faces get an extra soothing boost from the hyaluronic acid, botanical oils, antioxidants or niacinamide in CeraVe Broad Spectrum Sunscreen for Face Lotion SPF 30, L'Oreal Paris Age Perfect Hydra Nutrition Facial Oil Broad Spectrum SPF 30 and La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Broad Spectrum Ultra- Light Sunscreen Fluid.
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Lips and lids are crucial hot spots. "The lower lip and eyes are vulnerable to precancerous changes and squamous cell cancers," Leffell cautions. Make lip balm with broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher and sunglasses with UV protection part of your new routine.
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50+, check The Woman's Wakeup, How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style special-issue app for tablets.