Bodybuilders need tans because darker skin shows off muscle cuts better. And those of us who don't really need suntans still want them, because a nice even tan makes us look vigorous, active…healthy.
Yet the notion of a "healthy looking" suntan is a complete misnomer. The same rays of the sum that lift our spirits, warm our bodies and bring a blush of pink to our cheeks also work to rob us of our looks and our health. Simply put, the ultraviolet rays of the sun are our skin's worst enemies. They cause the skin to wrinkle, to sag, to become freckled and discolored, to look dry and leathery. In the long run, sun exposure is the single biggest cause of skin aging — and it is also the prime culprit in most cases of skin cancer.
As a report from The Dermatology Foundation notes, skin cancer increases in incidence the closer the population lives to the equator, with those who are of fair skin and light eyes the most vulnerable. Reduced sun exposure will reduce the risk of skin cancer — and the seeming attractiveness of having a tan must be balanced with the awareness that, the deeper your tan is now, the sooner you will get wrinkles in the future.
The good news: It is never too late to protect your skin from the sun — and there are safe ways to get a tan, thanks to the new science of sunscreens. What's more, studies now reveal that the skin literally repairs itself over time, so even a man who spent all of his teen years and twenties basking in the sun each summer can save his skin by starting to protect it in his thirties.
Dermatologists tell us that sun exposure is not simply a matter of lying on the beach, but of playing tennis, going to the ballgame or walking to and from the office. Men who are regularly exposed to the sun should use a light, lotion-based sunscreen as an aftershave balm. The throat, chest, ears, and the backs of the hands (where age spots often first appear) should all be protected — as should the top of a bald head. Look for a product that contains PABA, zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
Since it takes a while for a sunscreen to sink into the skin, it's best to put one on 15 minutes to half an hour before going outdoors. It also makes sense to stay out of the sun between 10 am. and 2 p.m., when two-thirds of the day's ultraviolet rays reach the earth.
How to choose a sunscreen: You need to know your SPFs (the abbreviation for Sun Protection Factor, which most companies now use to label their sun products). The SPF ratings range from 2 to 15 (usually 2, 4, 6, 8,10 or 15). The number indicates the strength of the sunscreen, that is, how much longer you can stay in the sun with it than without it and not get burned. The important point is that while sunscreens protect you from much of the sun's damage, they do not prevent you from getting a tan. The tan you get with a sunscreen will often take longer to achieve, but it will also be a longer-lasting tan, and be less likely to peel unattractively, as a sunburn often does.
A product with a SPF of 2, for example, will allow you to stay in the sun twice as long as you could otherwise. Two is the lowest SPF typical of "dark-tanning oils" and offers absolute minimal protection. If you are someone who burns easily, wearing an SPF of 2 is not going to help you. You will simply get a bad burn in ten minutes rather than in five!
The SPF you need depends on two basic factors: how easily you burn, and how much sun exposure you have had already. A suntan offers some (although not that much) protection against burning ultraviolet rays. Contrary to popular belief, having dark or black skin does not make you immune to sun damage. It may take the sun longer to wreak havoc on your skin, but you won't be able to totally avoid its ill effects.
The critical point in choosing your SPF is to use a stronger one during the first few days you're in the sun. Most men do the opposite, trying to get as much sun as possible in the first few days at the beach or on vacation. Yet the first two or three days are the time when you can get badly sunburned, because you have no protection. It takes the body a few days to build up its natural defense of added pigment (or melanin) in the skin. Even if you don't begin to look tan for a while, don't let that lull you into thinking you are not getting any sun. Rushing things will just result in a bad burn.
To take full advantage of the sun, and protect your skin while still getting some color, you may need more than one sunscreen product. Try one with a higher SPF for the first week or so until a slight tan builds up, then later another with a lower SPF to protect slightly tanned skin while allowing it to darken further. Your sunscreen collection should also include a complete sunblock (SPF 15), which will be needed when you plan on spending the whole day outdoors or at the beach (more on water plus sun later).
In general, the following SPF strengths work best for the six skin types doctors have identified. A warning, however: Always switch to a higher SPF in tropical sunshine, when close to the equator.
- TYPE I - Always burns easily, never tans - SPF 10 or 15. (Don't even try to tan; your skin will simply not take on a brown color).
- TYPE II - Always burns easily, tans minimally - SPF 10, then 8 once you have been out in the sun a week or longer.
- TYPE III - Burns moderately, tans slowly to light brown - SPF 8, then 6.
- TYPE IV - Burns minimally, always tans well to medium brown - SPF 8, then 6.
- TYPE V - Rarely burns, tans to dark brown - SPF 6 to cut down on ultraviolet exposure.
- TYPE VI - Never burns, deeply pigmented naturally - SPF 6 to cut down on ultraviolet exposure.
What about SPFs 4 and 2? I don't believe in them, unless you use them in the spring or fall when the sun is less intense. In the heat of summer, they simply do not provide enough protection against the aging effects of the sun.
BEYOND SPF'S: APPLICATION IS KEY
Its important to reapply your sunscreen often, and to take breaks from the sun to allow your skin to recover and your body to refresh itself as well.
In general, I no longer advise any man, no matter what his skin type, to lie in the sun for hours on end. If you insist on basking in the sun, do so for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Then, get up and go into the shade for 10 minutes, rinse your face with cool water, apply a moisturizer, and then reapplv your sunscreen. And drink a cool glass of water; the heat and sun are dehydrating, and your body needs to replace its fluids.
Its important to reapply sunscreen during the day, especially if your perspire heavily or go in and out of the water. Many of the newest sunscreens are waterproof or water-resistant; this means they will provide some protection while you are swimming, but it does not mean they will not rub off when you come out and dry yourself with a towel. Always be certain to reapply sunscreen before you go swimming; in clear water, 90%-95% of the ultraviolet rays that hit the surface can reach your skin even if you're swimming or snorkeling three feet under! Read the label to see how often your brand of sunscreen needs to he applied.
How you apply your sunscreen will help determine not only how even your tan is, but how much of your face and body you have protected from damage. Don't forget the sensitive skin of the nose, ears, the shoulders, and — if you don't have a full head of hair — the top of your head. The sun heats down on us from above, and those are the first spots it hits.
The lips are also sensitive to sun damage. Look for a lip balm that contains a sunscreen and reapply it often. Be aware, too, of the delicate skin area between the lips and the nose, where unwary sun worshippers often get a painful burn.
The eves need double protection. Not only is the skin around them the most sun sensitive and vulnerable skin, but the eyes themselves are susceptible to damage from ultraviolet rays. Look for new sunglasses that not only shield out the sun's glare, but that also offer protection from ultraviolet rays. When in the sun for long periods of time, put cold compresses on your eyes to avoid the puffiness that often follows a day at the seashore. When going sailing, wear a big hat plus sunglasses. The glare of the sun off the water is as damaging to your eyes as it is to your skin.
SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS: SKIN AND HEALTH GUARDS
- Avoid using perfume or cologne when you're in the sun, since any spot you dab it on may be sensitive to the sun. Likewise, avoid shaving right before or after sun exposure, since your skin is much more sensitive at that time.
- Certain kinds of medications can cause the skin to have a photosensitive reaction — meaning that even a few minutes in the sun can cause an extreme burn or rash. Check first with your doctor, especially if you are being treated for acne, keratoses, diabetes or high blood pressure, or are taking antibiotics, tranquilizers or diuretics.
- Be aware that the higher the altitude, the closer you are to the sun — and the more intense its effects will be. In the mountains in the summer, the air may feel cool but the sun will be quite strong, as there is less air (and pollution) to filter the ultraviolet rays. Likewise, skiers are especially prone to severe sunburns, and need to he careful to apply sunscreens and richer moisturizers in order to guard against burning and moisture loss.
- Watch what you eat in the heat of summer. Heavy or greasy foods can cause upset stomachs. What your body needs most is water — so drink plenty of it, plus water-rich foods like fresh fruits, melon, apples and vegetables. While many men love to drink beer at the beach, this is not the best choice. Beer is not only fattening, but like any alcoholic beverage, actually robs the body of water rather than supplementing the cells' fluid needs. Opt for fresh squeezed orange juice, lemonade (without sugar), club soda or mineral water instead. Salty snacks will make you thirstier, so chose a frozen yogurt, a tall glass of iced tea a cold platter of fresh vegetables instead.
- Don't head for the sauna or the steam room immediately after being out in the sun. Your skin will already be overheated; adding more warmth can intensify a sun burn or even bring one on, if it hasn't yet come out. Instead, save the sauna for the day after, when you'II want to take a day off from sunning, in any case.
- Remember that the water in a pool, in the ocean, when sailing or boating acts like a mirror, intensifying the ability of the sun to heat and burn your skin. If you'll be spending a good deal of time near the water, switch to a higher SPF than usual, and keep reapplying it. Even men who say they never burn often are taken by surprise when they spend a day on a boat. A man with fair skin should wear long sleeves shirts, long pants and a hat when on a boat— if he doesn't want to be heading into the cabin after an hour in the sun!
- You can never be too young or too old to suffer sun damage. If you have children, teach them the sun protection habit when young; they'll thank you for it when they're older: Likewise, you never outgrow the need for soul protection
- Never use a reflector it is the equivalent to baking yourself in the oven! likewise, never go out in the sun with baby oil or coconut oil slathered on your skin. That's like turning your body into a French fry.
- While clouds seem to mask the sun, they only block the light, not the ultraviolet rays. You can get a worse burn on a cloudy day than a clear, sunny one, because you will be lulled into not feeling the sun on your skin. Apply a sunscreen whatever the weather whenever you're spending time outdoors in the summertime.
- Some people develop an allergy to PABA (para-aminobenzic acid), the main ingredient in most sunscreens. If you do, look for one of the new PABA free formulas (ask our pharmacist if you are uncertain).
- If our skin tends to be oily, avoid greasy or heavy sunscreens, as these can block pores and encourage blemishes. Instead, choose a light lotion formula (some are even labeled 'for oily skin'). If your skin is very dry on the other hand, you may want to apply a light moisturizer over your sunscreen for additional protection.
In short, avoiding intense sun exposure is the only was to insure that your skin will be given a fair chance as it moves through time's natural processes Whatever your ethnic background, be aware that the skin ''remembers'' that while fair-skinned individuals may show the effects of sunbathing sooner, every skin type is vulnerable. Each and every exposure to ultraviolet rays takes its toll. In most cases, it takes years for the damage to truly become visible and by that time, it is often too late to right the skin's wrongs.
IF YOU OVERDO IT: SUNBURN RELIEF
Sun puts the skin on the defensive; tanning is a retaliation process, the marshalling of the skin's melanocytes (or pigment-producing cells) to protect the under layers of the skin from the harmful rays of the sun. Light-skinned individuals have far less pigment producing potential than those with olive or black skin. Whatever your skin type, too much sun can mean sunburn. Even black skin can get burnt, although the darker your complexion, the longer it will take.
While a sunburn is most obvious and uncomfortable on the skin's outer layers, it is also a reflection of damage under the skin's surface. Sunburn indicates a breaking down of the skin's connective fibers, the type of damage that eventually leads to wrinkled, sagging skin. A sunburn, in other words, is the augury of aging skin to come.
A severe sunburn, like any other major burn, can be painful — and at its most severe can land yon in the hospital. The best thing to do for a mild sunburn is to cool your skin with a soak in a lukewarm (not hot) bath, with three teaspoons of baking soda mixed in for added skin soothing. If the skin is inflamed, you may want to take two aspirins for their anti-inflammatory effect. Compresses soaked in cool water, milk or iced tea can soothe burnt facial skin or puffy eyelids. While some people opt for anesthetic sprays or lotions sold in drugstores, it is not uncommon to develop an allergic reaction to these.
If your skin feels hot to the touch, apply a head-to-toe plain yogurt masque, leave on for 10 minutes-and then shower off with cool water. Avoid rubbing your skin with a loofah, washcloth, or a towel, as this will increase skin tenderness, Instead, pat skin dry and apply moisturizer (one with aloe, if possible, as this plants extracts are natural burn healers).
If your skin is peeling, apply a rich moisturizer to lessen surface flakiness, supplemental at night, perhaps, by a moisturizing mask. Never pull off about-to-peel skin. The skin will fall off when it is ready, and polling it off too soon will reveal red, raw skin and cause irritation. If your skin has become very dry, add three cups of whole milk to a lukewarm bath and let your body soak for 10 minutes.
Any blistering or highly painful sunburn should be brought to a physician's attention, not self-treated.