Whether it's the beginning of spring, the dog days of summer, the crisp start of fall, or the middle of winter, one thing's for certain: Sun protection deserves a place in your routine. Many people believe that sunscreen and protective measures are only necessary during full-blown exposure (such as beach trips) and that sun damage is a later-in-life problem, but that's simply not the case. In fact, according to New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman, about 23 percent of sun damage is accrued by the time we are 18. This means that it's never too early to start protecting yourself from those UV rays and the potential premature aging and skin cancer that can occur as a result.
Since prevention is key, proper protection is of the utmost importance. And while this very much includes cream- and lotion-based SPF products, there are more ways to put a barrier between you and those rays. Whether you're prone to sunburns or simply want to reduce your exposure as much as possible, read on to learn all about the types of sun protection that have nothing to do with sunscreen.
Sun protection doesn't have to be complicated—it can be as simple as putting on the right clothes before heading outdoors. According to Dr. Engelman, hats are the easiest and most effective way to block harmful aggressors. "They are especially important for long periods outside," she says. Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology in Manhattan, agrees, noting that a three-inch brimmed hat protects not only the face and top of the head, but also the neck, shoulders, and ears. "A baseball hat doesn't protect the shoulders, the ears, or the back of the neck," she adds.
In addition to hats, Dr. Levin says that clothing with a UPF label (the numeric value attached to it indicates how much ultraviolet light is absorbed by the fabric) is a great addition to any closet. The ratings range from UPF 15 (which Dr. Levin says is good) to 50+ (which she says is excellent). Essentially, the higher the number, the better. "UPF ratings are measured by a standardized test where UV light is transmitted through a garment's fabric and then measured by a radiation-measuring device, called a spectrophotometer or a spectroradiometer," she explains. "For example, a UPF of 50 allows 1/50 of the sun's ultraviolet radiation to reach the skin, which means any clothing with UPF 50 allows less than 2 percent of UV transmission to come through. A white T-shirt is estimated to give a UPF of five to eight, which means 20 percent (or 1/5) of the sun's UV radiation is passing through."
Not sure where to find UPF clothing? Dr. Levin recommends brands like Ultracor and Mott50. Where Ultracor combines performance with fashion-forward activewear that's equipped with UPF 50, Mott50 is a favorite for its lightweight fabric, cute designs, and excellent protection. "For my patients who golf, run, or bike outdoors, I like the Nike Dri-Fit UV Solar Sleeves ($18.97, nike.com)," she adds. "They allow the arms to be protected from UV radiation but have the Dri-Fit technology, so they dry quickly." Looking for a swim shirt? Dr. Levin recommends brands like Rip Curl, O'Neill, Roxy, and Dakine for their coverage and fit.
Dr. Engelman says it's important to remember that sunscreen is only one tool in your arsenal—and that you can combat sun damage with other ingredients. "I love an antioxidant before sunscreen to neutralize free radical damage," she explains. "Studies show that ferulic acid stabilizes a solution of vitamins C and E and doubles its photo-protection of skin." When it comes to sun care, she says to think of antioxidants as a stable, wealthy, and very generous friend. "Antioxidants are stable molecules, but they have an extra electron to offer, free of charge," she shares, noting that they also neutralize oxidative stress that can cause cell damage—and, in excess and over time, result in signs of aging.
If you're looking for a top-notch antioxidant-rich product to add to your sun care routine, she says to reach for Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($166, dermstore.com) or SkinBetter's Alto Defense Serum ($150, skinbetter.com), both of which will work wonders for just about every skin type.
Dr. Engelman says that physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide do not block a significant portion of infrared rays. "IR has a longer wavelength that goes around the physical particles," she explains. Because of this, she says to look for special antioxidants that counter the biological effects of IR. "The SOL-IR blend in SkinMedica's Total Defense + Repair SPF 34 ($68, dermstore.com) is responsible for blocking the biological effects of UV and IR," she explains. "Physalis angulata (knotgrass) extract is especially effective in providing protection against this kind of damage."
DNA Repair Enzymes
This sounds intensely scientific—we know—but according to Dr. Engelman, "DNA repair enzymes cut out the damaged DNA, replacing them with fresh, clean bases to correct the sequence." While our skin has an array of naturally occurring enzymes to help repair damaged DNA, like collagen and elastin, these enzymes dwindle with age. As such, it's important to find products formulated with DNA repair enzymes to help fill the gap. One brand that features these skincare goodies, she says, is Neova.