Sunscreen Helps With Aging Skin Prevention, But I Still Forget To Wear It

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tanning-sunscreenEven though we all kind of know that too much sun exposure over time will lead you to look more like a leather purse than a supermodel, this recent research from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research justifies these observations. This came at a perfect time for me, because I’m failing at my summer vow to wear more sunscreen — and because I’m a little bit worried that if I keep doing this to myself every year I’m going to wind up looking like Clifford The Big Red Dog. Only not cute.


The researchers randomly assigned 903 adults, ages 25-55, to use a broad spectrum sunscreen every day with frequent reapplications or to use sunscreen at their discretion.

The adults using daily sunscreen were 24 percent less likely to show increased aging, according to the study. Regardless of sex, age, skin color, occupation, skin cancer history, weight and smoking, everyone benefitted from daily sunscreen use.

Also, it’s not so much about simply remembering to put on sunscreen before you leave your house. Adele Green, the lead author of the trial, explains that the “most important issue is applying the sunscreen well and applying it often.”

Past studies have shown that people who use sunscreen can be lulled into a false sense of safety, staying out longer in the sun without applying sunscreen properly.

“The sunscreen has to be applied thick enough and in all areas to be effective,” says Dr. Thomas Ruenger, a professor of dermatology at Boston University. Ruenger, who recently published a study showing UV rays induce skin cells to express and accumulate a protein associated with premature aging, recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 20 or 30 and reapplying every two hours and after sweating or bathing.

I’ve been doing it wrong for years. Perhaps the only time I wore sunscreen and reapplied every two hours was when I was in diapers and my mom did it for me.

When I grew up, I had my tanning routine down to a science: I’d lie outside for a couple hours, my skin would burn, I’d put on Aloe Vera, it would turn into a tan overnight. Then I’d repeat. When I discovered tanning beds in my twenties, I visited them religiously for a couple of years, but gave up when I took on pack-a-day smoking (I didn’t want the whole smorgasbord of cancers, just one would do. Yes, this is my habit talking).

I’ve known instinctively for years that this burn/tan cycle was bad for me, but this year was the first I noticed how rough and reddish parts of my body get when they’re exposed to the sun for too long. I’m not concerned so much with aging skin prevention, because a.) I’m going to get wrinkles whether I wear sunscreen or not, and b.) I don’t see aging as a problem to be remedied, it’s something that just happens, like breathing. But at the same time, I was kind of sad for my skin. I want to wear my complexion proudly, and red splotches don’t make me feel confident, they just make me feel like this isn’t my real skin.

But I want to set an example for my little girl, too, for whom the temptation of sunbathing on the beach or in one of those mysterious coffin-shaped glowing machines may be too much. If they even have tanning beds in the future. There’s a good possibility my daughter will have my complexion, meaning she’ll receive all the weird societal messages to get a “healthy glow,” while at the same time she may resort to my same brutally unhealthy technique to get a tan — burn, tan, repeat.

So I bought a body lotion with SPF and started wearing it daily. I try to put sunscreen on my daughter, too, whenever we’ll be outside for awhile. It’s the reapplying that’s going to be the hard part. Every time I relax outside, I kind of fall into a Sun Coma and it’s all the effort in the world to keep my eyes open, let alone reapply sunscreen.

I guess I could just make my mom come with me every time I go outside — she probably wouldn’t hesitate to slather down both me and my daughter every two hours. Of course, then she’d need to bring her own mom, too.

(photo: Mila Supinskaya / Shutterstock)