Sun Sense: What You Must Know


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When it comes to the details of how to protect your skin in the sun, what you don’t know can damage your skin.
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What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You!

The result of sun exposure is skin damage: wrinkles, brown skin discolorations, dull-looking skin, and potentially even skin cancer. We’ve compiled the most essential points you must know if your goal is to have healthy, younger-looking skin. Remember, without practicing good sun sense no other skin-care product will matter.

How to Be Sun Smart

  • There is no such thing as a safe tan, whether it is from the sun or a tanning booth/bed.
  • UVB rays from the sun cause sunburn.
  • UVA rays from the sun are silent killers because you don't feel them but they are the primary cause of skin cancer, wrinkles, and a weakened immune system. (UVA rays even penetrate through clear glass windows that do not have a UV coating.)
  • Even on a cloudy or hazy day, all the sun's rays are present and damaging your skin.
  • Sitting in the shade or wearing a hat only protects against a portion of the sun's rays.
  • Surrounding surfaces such as water, sand, cement, and grass reflect the rays from the ground to your skin giving you a double whammy of exposure.
  • Altitude is a sun enhancer: For every 1,000-foot increase in altitude, the sun's potency increases by 4%. Don’t forget the sunscreen when you’re skiing!
  • A product's SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number is a basic indicator of how long you can stay in the sun before getting burned. 
  • SPF is crucial, but it is only a measurement of sunburn (UVB) protection. Your skin needs to be protected from the sun’s UVA rays as well. While some countries have adopted UVA ratings, it has not yet happened in the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, some European countries, and South America, among others. To be sure your sunscreen can protect you from the sun’s UVA rays you have to check the active ingredients list to see if either zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone (which may also be listed as butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane), Mexoryl SX (ecamsule), or Tinosorb are there. Every Paula’s Choice sunscreen is carefully formulated to provide critical UVA protection.
  • Even if the SPF number on your sunscreen's label is an SPF 50 or greater, it still has limitations and can let approximately 3% of UV rays penetrate your skin. Sitting directly in the sun, even with sunscreen on, is a bad idea because no sunscreen provides 100% protection.
  • As a general rule, it is best to apply sunscreen at least 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure.
  • You must apply sunscreen liberally (and most people don’t).
  • If you are using more than one product with sunscreen, the two sunscreens do not add up to one SPF number; however, you are definitely getting more protection than just using one product so layering can be beneficial!
  • Sunscreens that only use titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as the active ingredient are completely non-irritating and preferred for sensitive skin, those with rosacea, or for use on babies and children.
  • You must use sunscreen on any part of your body that will see the sun, such as your hands, neck, ears, and chest. Just like your face, aging skin on the rest of the body is about sun damage and can, to a large extent, be blocked with the daily use of sunscreen.

Learn more about what the sun is doing to your skin and how you can prevent it. See our sunscreen infographic.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Sun Protection Products.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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