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More Than Sunscreen: How to Care for Skin in the Sun

By Kelly Chapman, Owner, Meredith Whole Living Center

By now, most people understand the inherent risk excessive sun exposure poses for our skin- both cosmetically and medically. Not only is the sun responsible for many visible signs of aging, but it is also the leading cause of skin cancer, which is the most common of all cancers and affects approximately 1 in 5 adults by age 70. In addition to common guidance for reducing the risk of excessive sun exposure, time in the spa industry has broadened my awareness of how our skincare regimens should take sun exposure into account.

Most of us know that if we’re heading out for a day in the sun, a broad spectrum sunscreen of 15 or above, a wide brimmed hat, UVA and UVB blocking sunglasses and skin covering clothing are important tools to protect our skin from too much sun. But did you know that certain products and services you may enjoy to enhance your skin could have negative effects when combined with sun exposure?

For instance retinol, a powerhouse anti-aging ingredient and topical form of Vitamin A, is a common ingredient in many anti-aging skin care products. While its use can help reduce the signs of previous sun damage, it’s important to note that it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, increasing the risk of further damage to your skin. And it’s not alone- other ingredients that are otherwise used to enhance skin health but that can cause damage if used in the sun include AHAs and BHAs such as glycolic, lactic and salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, essential oils and certain topical prescriptions. Most products that come with an increased risk of sun sensitivity will say so directly on the package, but you may not have access to the labels on each product if you’re enjoying a facial at your local spa. While your esthetician is likely to share precautions to take after certain services, it’s always best to ask directly if you plan to be spending time in the sun after an appointment.

Another common service that can be seriously affected by time in the sun is waxing. Sun exposure before a wax can damage the skin, making it more susceptible to further damage during the service. It’s also advised to avoid sun exposure for 48 hours after receiving a wax, as the skin will be sensitive and exfoliated, leaving it more susceptible to damage, including potential scarring. When receiving waxing services, make sure to discuss plans for sun exposure with your esthetician.

While most products that come with an increased risk with sun exposure will state that they do on their label, the best way to navigate enjoying the warm weather while caring for your largest, most visible organ is to maintain a relationship with a dermatologist or esthetician you trust. By honestly sharing the amount of sun exposure you plan to have, these professionals can help tailor your treatment needs year round.

Even with proper precautions, excessive sun exposure can still happen. Because of the extreme moisture loss that occurs when it does, it’s important to continue drinking water to rehydrate damaged skin to support the healing process. Products with Vitamin C and E will also assist your skin in its ability to repair from sun damage, although it’s important to remember that prevention is still the best remedy. With current research suggesting that as few as five sunburns can increase your lifelong risk of developing skin cancer, it pays to increase your awareness of the many ways to avoid sun damage this summer.


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