The common misconception about skin care, especially the face, is that people of color do not need sunscreen, according to Dr. Diedre Nelson-Sands, dermatologist at The Art of Skin Clinic. She finds herself having to constantly explain to people that uneven skin tone and dark spots on the face are significantly worsened by sun exposure, and that wearing sunscreen alone can significantly improve skin in people with these problems.
The most common mistakes she sees is people not using sunscreen, not reapplying their sunscreen, and also thinking they can reverse 20 years of sun damage easily. The doctor said prevention is much better than cure.
Nelson-Sands, who specializes in both medical and cosmetic dermatology, said people should be protecting their skin, year-round, and be taking extra care in the brutally hot months of summer.
“In the summer, the amount of daylight hours increases and this is also the time of the year when we are outside the most – going to the beach, boating and being in the pool. The more exposure we have to ultraviolet (UV) rays, the more careful we have to be with wearing UV clothing and sunscreen use,” said Nelson-Sands who practices out of The Art of Skin Clinic on New Providence and Grand Bahama.
She said the first thing people need to do is get accustomed to applying sunscreen daily – even indoors. She said sunscreen wearing does not just mean to the face, but to all exposed skin. And to then try to limit the amount of time spent in direct sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and trying to stay in the shade, even if they have to make their own by the use of hats, caps and protecting the skin with UV clothing.
“UV rays are very harmful, leading to different types of skin cancers including the dreaded melanoma. It also worsens post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and general dyschromia (that’s when you have an uneven skin tone and it appears as if your skin is made up of several colors). It also causes you to age much more rapidly – and I don’t know about you, but since no one has yet found the fountain of youth, I would like to slow down my aging as much as is possible.”
The doctor said people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus are also affected by sun exposure, and can have a flare just by prolonged sun exposure.
The best sunscreen, she said, is the one a person uses daily.
“I prefer the mineral sunscreens – those are the ones with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – because they are less irritating and therefore great for sensitive skin. However, they also tend to leave a white cast. Luckily, many of these now carry a tint that blends in much more easily into different skin tones. The SPF [sun protection factor] is a marker for what percentage of the UV radiation is blocked.”
Ideally, the doctor suggests SPF 50 to 60.
“Generally, SPF 30 is recommended, but so many people use an insufficient amount that I recommend higher just to be safe.”
And she said her patients know this mantra: “Apply your sunscreen daily, even if you’re inside, even if it’s raining, even if it’s cloudy, even if it’s snowing or hailing.” She also encourages them to be cognizant of how long their sunscreen lasts before they need to reapply, which can be done by checking the bottle. But she said she is happy with people applying in the morning, then again around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., and being more cautious if they are in direct sunlight or in the water.
When applying SPF, Dr. Nelson-Sands said people need to not only think about their face.
“All our skin needs protection. People tend to put sunscreen on the face only and forget about that neck and upper chest. So, the neck ages badly and it’s rather obvious what has happened. Skin cancers also occur on non-facial skin, so it’s very important to protect the skin on all areas of the body.
People who purchase moisturizer with SPF in it, she said, still need additional protection.
“Most manufacturers recommend an amount of moisturizer that is way more than people use. Therefore, you’re getting a much lower SPF than stated on the bottle. Most sunscreens are inherently moisturizing, so just get a dedicated sunscreen and a separate moisturizer if needed.”
As for the difference between sunscreen and sunblock – the term sunscreen generally refers to chemical sunscreens, and sunblock refers to mineral sunscreens.
“Chemical sunscreens have chemical compounds that absorb UV radiation and convert it to heat, which is then released from the skin. Mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that sit on top of the skin and physically block the UV rays. Mineral sunscreens are reef safe and are best for people with sensitive skin.”
Nelson-Sands said she is dedicated to helping people achieve younger, healthier-looking skin. Her goal as a dermatologist is to provide her patients with the finest professional medical skin care possible for all ages.