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The #1 Cause of Premature Skin Aging: Sun Exposure

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The #1 cause of premature skin aging is sun exposure. This is why one of the most important things women and men can do to slow down premature skin aging is to diligently protect their skin from the sun. I spend time with each and every patient who comes into my office—offering advice and administering treatments to reverse the effects of aging, but without daily sun protection, the signs of aging will continue to appear—and reappear.

Why Sun Exposure Causes Premature Skin Aging 

1) The sun triggers 80 percent of skin aging.
One study links the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays to every sign of premature aging: fine lines and wrinkles; lack of firmness; loss of elasticity; dry, rough skin; enlarged pores; pigmentation changes (e.g. age spots, freckles, and other skin discoloration); and vascular alterations (e.g. spider veins and dilated blood vessels on the skin).

This is why I never recommend tanning—whether outdoors at the beach or in a tanning bed.

“A tan is actually an outward sign of damage to the skin and the first step to premature skin aging.”

2) Sunscreen needs to protect from both UVA and UVB rays to be effective.
Daily sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays (called broad-spectrum sun protection) with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 is essential to slowing down premature skin aging.

• UVA rays (think “A” for Aging Rays) penetrate deep into the skin’s layers, triggering a breakdown of collagen—the key skin-firming and structural protein in the skin. This breakdown triggers the formation of wrinkles, loss of elasticity, and overall lack of firmness (as well as skin cancer). These rays are present all year round and can penetrate through clouds and glass (another reason to apply daily sun protection every day of the year, even if you’ll be in the car or sitting by your office window).

• UVB rays (think “B” for Burning Rays) also penetrate the skin’s layers, but not as deep as UVA rays. They penetrate the uppermost layers where melanocytes (cells responsible for skin pigmentation) are found, triggering hyperpigmentation. These rays can trigger burning of the skin (as well as skin cancer).

3) Sunscreen has to be re-applied throughout the day to be effective.
It’s not good enough to just apply sun protection in the morning under your makeup and go about your day; sunscreen is only effective when it stays on the skin all day. This is why you have to be diligent about reapplying every two hours and after sweating, being in the water and/or drying off.

This is why I love—and recommend to each of my patients—Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen by Colorescience. This brush-on transparent mineral powder offers an SPF 50 and can be easily applied and reapplied throughout the day. Plus, it’s water resistant and comes in four different shades in a retractable brush. (You can also use it on the body; pour the powder into a larger container and use a large brush to apply all over.)

4) The right clothing offers all-day protection.
All clothing protects from the sun in varying degrees. But clothing with extra sun protection is what I recommend; it’s rated in terms of UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor)—from 15 (good protection) to 50+ (excellent protection). The best thing about sun-protective clothing: you don’t need to reapply as you do with sunscreen.

The latest sun-protective clothing brands are stylish and offer everything from hats and coverups to swimsuits and rash guards. Two of my favorite brands:

Tutublue sells stylish rash guards, leggings, one-piece suits and much more (two great options, below).

Tutublue Zip Up shguard in Turq, $90.Tutublue Pull Over Rashguard in AquaLung, $75.

CabanaLife has a stylish selection of sun-protective dresses, tops, shorts, swimsuits, hats, and more (some faves, below).

Coastal Crush Suit, $69

Cabana Front-Tie Swim Shorts, $60.Embroidered Terry Tunic, $102

There are plenty of other brands that offer effective UPF clothing options as well: sunprotectionzoneuvskinzecostinger, and coolibar (which also has an extensive collection of protective sunglasses). Given the range of options today, there’s no need to go without a sun-protective top or bottom—or even swimsuit.

Diligent protection from the sun is a must for anyone who wants to slow down the effects of premature skin aging and have younger-looking skin. And it’s an essential companion for anyone having anti-aging treatments and/or injectables.

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