Think of your skin as permanent wrapping paper for your looks. By 50 what started out as a smooth package can get pretty decorative — with creasing and colorful add-ons — thanks to prior years of sun exposure. Let's be realistic: We've all had plenty of unprotected decades. Basal and squamous cell skin cancer are a scary reality for many of us; melanoma is even more terrifying. I asked dermatologist Dennis Gross, a board member of the Skin Cancer Foundation, to add his professional insight to my own beauty editor suggestions. Here are 10 ways to play safe in the sun:
1. Every skin tone light to dark requires daily sun protection.
There's no such thing as getting a “base tan to look healthy” or “I have darker skin so that's natural protection.” Whether your skin is pale like Nicole Kidman, darker like Viola Davis or somewhere in-between, you can't afford to skip sunscreen. The more pigment — known as melanin — in your skin, the richer, deeper your complexion, but it's not a barrier to UV rays. “Women of all complexions, all races, are vulnerable to skin cancer,” says Gross. And we're all also susceptible to sunburns, wrinkles, saggy skin and spotty discolorations. That means it is crucial to use products with clearly stated broad spectrum protection on the label to protect against UVB (burning rays) and UVA (aging) rays.
2. You can start improving your skin health today.
"We need to raise the level of awareness for those women 50-plus who think the damage is done,” says Gross. “It's important to prevent new cancers or new precancerous lesions from a health perspective.” Of course, there are optional dermatological procedures such as lasers to improve brown spots, wrinkles and saggy skin as a result of long-term sun exposure, but the DIY part — sunscreen — is not negotiable. “The FDA is currently considering a new cap of 60+ on high SPF (sun protection factor) numbers, but make a daily SPF 30+ part of your routine for all exposed skin, apply generously, thoroughly and reapply as needed,” he adds.
3. Glass is no barrier to UVA rays.
Sunscreen is not just for days at the beach or pool. UVA rays (those aging and skin-destroying ones) penetrate glass, so driving, sitting or working in front of a window leaves you vulnerable. In fact, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the left side of drivers’ faces often show more visible signs of aging and skin cancer since that's the driver's window side.