All you need to know about UV Rays and aging, and how to prevent and minimize photodamage
Yes, there really is a way to look sun-kissed and enjoy your life in the sunshine, while also preventing photodamage (sun damage and aging)
As an amazon affiliate Filippa Approves may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. This doesn’t cost you anything.
We never collaborate with beauty/fashion brands, and we do not accept sponsorships.
The sun is the number one reason for faster skin aging. While it feels great lying on the beach feeling that ultraviolet light (UV) warming up your face and body, knowing there’s a good-lookin’ tan in the making, it doesn’t make it good for you.
The sun’s rays ruin your skin and change its DNA on a cellular level. Damage to the skin caused by the sun is what we call photodamage or photoaging.
Common signs of photodamage are:
- Fine and coarse wrinkles
- Freckles and age spots
- Pigmentation changes
- Less elasticity (thinner, saggy skin)
Of course – keep in mind that aging is a normal part of life and happens to everyone. But there’s no doubt that we can drastically postpone the aging process, in addition to aging more nicely, with overall less photodamage.
Just take a look at the world’s tanning habits and their skin;
Photodamage and sun exposure across the globe
Why do different races age differently?
Why do most Chinese women look so young and beautiful?
For instance, we got East Asia, where it’s basically considered good to be pale with “porcelain skin” because this indicates you belong to the upper class. This has resulted in many people staying away from the sun. They stay indoors if possible, they use sunblocks, hats, and umbrellas. Gloves and socks in thongs/sandals are normal. In China, it’s common to see children in “bathing suits” that cover their whole body, just to stay pale.
As a result of this, most people age very slowly. Women in their 40s often look like a 20-year old. There’s no doubt that staying completely away from the sun is the best way of preventing photodamage and skin cancer.
However, it’s totally understandable that this isn’t an amusing option for everyone.
If we go more west on the globe, to Europe, we see the complete opposite of East Asia. Most Europeans love to tan. The downsides of tanning are especially noticeable in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, where the majority of people are pretty pale and low on melanin. People with a light complexion are unfortunately the least fit to handle the sun. They are simply much more prone to sun damage and skin cancer.
So despite Scandinavia having long and dark winters, and pretty few “sunshine hours” (statistics), their passion for tanning travels and chasing the sun, is definitely noticeable on their skin. According to this study, Scandinavian Countries also ranked the highest in the use of indoor sunbeds, due to being sun-deprived. It’s also unfortunately very common with botox, even in the early 20s. (Here’s why you shouldn’t get botox)
In conclusion, the visible aging of the skin for a caucasian or a light-skinned person is about 80% due to sun exposure (study). So of course we will see faster, earlier, and more severe photodamage in a pale person that spends their summer working that tan, compared to someone that spends little to no time in the sun.
Obviously, photoaging is mostly superficial. The number 1 reason to be careful in the sun, is needless to say: skin cancer.
Melanoma skin cancer rates
If we look at the world statistics for melanoma skin cancer in 2020, Australia is in the lead, with New Zealand second. Then followed by Denmark and other Scandinavian and Nordic countries.
Darker skin tones and UV Rays
Are darker skin tones less likely to get skin cancer or photodamage?
If you are blessed with darker skin tones, you are still unfortunately somewhat vulnerable to photoaging and skin cancer. But as a thumb rule, the more melanin-rich you are = the better your skin can handle UV rays. Sun damage on very dark skin tones are more likely to result in uneven dark patches (melasma) rather than saggy, wrinkly skin (study).
Also, note that people with very dark skin are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. This is because the rich melanin (pigment) in dark skin won’t allow the skin to absorb as much UV radiation. This is especially noteworthy if you are a dark-skinned person living in a sun-deprived country.
The Fitzpatrick system – What skin type are you?
The Fitzpatrick skin type system classifies 6 different skin types according to the amount of pigment your skin has. This system can help you predict your risk of sun damage and skin cancer. Type 1 & 2 are at high risk of photoaging and skin cancer. If you are 1 or 2 it’s especially important that you take action to prevent photodamage.
What skin type are you?
How to prevent photodamage
Sooo, what now?
It’s totally understandable that you want to enjoy your life while you have it. Like spending time on the beach, surfing, skiing in the mountains, and other sun-filled activities. It’s also understandable that you like to be tanned. I mean, who doesn’t ?! All skin tones look more glowy and nice when sun-kissed, and bodies tend to look more toned and fit.
There are ways you can enjoy your activities and tan, while also reducing the chance of skin cancer and sun-damaged skin. We will get back to that shortly!
First, let’s look at some of the positive sides of sunshine!
Benefits of sunlight:
- The burning star called the sun is VITAL to life on earth. Without it, we wouldn’t be here.
- The sun is our most important source of energy.
- We get most of our vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D is obviously crucial, it also helps our bodies take in other vitamins and minerals like calcium.
- A study has found that it lowers our blood pressure, due to a compound called Nitric Oxide.
- The sun kills some bacteria, think of it as a sanitizer for the air.
- It gives us light, which is extremely important for our well-being and energy.
- The light and rays help treat depression. Fun fact, people living in places where there’s no sun, have special in-door lamps that mimic the sunlight, only to prevent winter depression.
- Without the sun, photosynthesis wouldn’t be possible, and therefore no plants, flowers, or trees. But again, without the sun we wouldn’t be here either.
- It gives us the beautiful, green polar lights.
- We are definitely made to tolerate some sunlight without danger.
How to enjoy the sun and be tan while reducing the risk of photodamage in 7 ways:
1. ALWAYS WEAR SPF
Needless to say, wear your SPF. Don’t worry, you’ll tan with a high factor as well. Make sure your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB, and ideally blue light from screens – which also ruins your skin.
Fun (awful) fact – tons of sunscreens, even bestsellers, have pretty poor UVA protection!!! UVA is the rays that go deep into the skin and ruin your collagen and elastin and cause premature aging. Imagine UVA stands for aging, and UVB stands for burning. A sunscreen with “SPF 50” often has excellent protection against UVB, but little to none against UVA.
Europe has stricter laws when it comes to mandatory UVA filters, but you should still make sure your sunscreen has the best protection against UVA. As Americans, or people living outside of Europe, you should be extra picky choosing your sunscreen.
How to find sunscreens with good UVA protection
Look at the ingredient list, and make sure one or several of these are at the top:
- avobenzone (butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane)
- mexoryl 400 (methoxypropylamino cyclohexenylidene ethoxyethylcyanoacetate)
- tinosorb s (bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine)
- tinosorb m (methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol)
- uvinul a plus (diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate)
- ecamsule (terephthalylidene dicamphor sulfonic acid)
Chemical sunscreens usually have better protection against UVA, since the mineral/physical/natural sunscreens usually use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which has poor protection against UVA.
We’ve stalked the ingredient list on a TON of sunscreens, and the best we found was by far the La Roche Posay Anthelios UVMUNE.
How do sunscreens protect the skin?
Mineral sunscreens (physical and natural) contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which basically work by reflecting the UV rays off of the skin. Zinc oxide also protects against blue light.
Chemical sunscreens work by sinking into the skin and then absorbing the UV rays -> converting the rays into heat, and releasing it. A little complicated.
What’s best – Mineral or Chemical sunscreen?
Mineral (physical) sunscreens usually have better protection against UVB, while chemical sunscreens have better protection against UVA, but are also good against UVB.
Mineral sunscreens are natural and non-toxic, while chemical sunscreens might not be the best for your health. Chemical sunscreens are also bad for the environment (coral/oceans). 6,000 tons of toxic sunscreen enter into Hawai’i ocean annually.
Chemical sunscreens don’t leave a white cast, absorb easily, and feel great on the skin, while mineral sunscreens often leave a white cast, and can be greasy and thick.
It all comes down to your preference.
For the health of your body and our environment, choose mineral sunscreen. Many countries have banned chemical sunscreens, to avoid people from using them at the beach. For instance Thailand, Hawaii, Maui, Australia, Mexico…
If you do choose chemical ones, please don’t use them when you are in the ocean, and please remove them with a make-up wipe or cotton pad, and throw it in the garbage before your regular cleansing routine (to avoid it ending up in the ocean with the rest of your shower water)
Luckily for us, the recent years it has been big changes in the sunscreen world. We now have good options for all skin types and colors, and we don’t have to deal with that thick uncomfortable old-school sunscreen.
It has become very popular to use tinted sunscreens with skin-beneficial ingredients. People are crazy about tinted SPFs like the ELTA MD and ILIA SPF skin tint, which are protection of very high quality. If you are looking for a dupe to these, give DRMTLGY universal tinted SPF a try! It’s half the price and has SPF 46++ of excellent quality.
Sunscreen for oily skin and/or acne
If you have oily skin and/or acne, SPF Powder is your best friend. They’re usually mattifying, clean, skin-friendly, and breathable. Unfortunately, most SPF powders only have 25-30 SPF protection, but this top-rated one from ISDIN actually has SPF 50!
Sunscreen for darker skin types
For medium to darker skin types, gel SPF is gold, as they don’t leave a white cast. Give the Julep clear GEL sunscreen a go. It’s a skin-friendly gel sunscreen with SPF 40++, it feels and looks invisible on the skin, and since the color is clear, it won’t leave a white cast on even the darkest skin tones. It also protects your skin against environmental damage. The gel sunscreen leaves a glowing finish.
Regular creamy sunscreens
If you like regular creamy sunscreens, try the Sun Bum SPF 50+. It goes well under make-up, is reef-friendly, super cheap, & vegan!
Sunscreens for the body
For the body, spray sunscreens are usually preferred as they are lightweight and won’t leave a sticky feel. They’re also so much quicker to apply. It’s easier to apply the sunscreen evenly, making it less likely for you to burn on forgotten areas. Please always choose reef-friendly sunscreens. Some suggestions are the SupergooP antioxidant mist or the Sun Bum spray. They are both very affordable, lightweight, fast-absorbing, vegan, and reef-friendly.
2. SPEND SHORTER PERIODS IN THE SUN
A great (and obvious) way of preventing photodamage is to try to limit your time in the sun, especially when the sun rays are at their strongest around 11 am – 3 pm.
It’s supposedly also much better to spend time evenly in the sun throughout the year, rather than intensively tanning 12 hours a day on a 1-2 week vacation. This is because evenly and mild exposure to the UV rays will usually somewhat increase the skin’s melanin production.
But definitely try to limit your time cooking in the sun. How about enjoying a book in the shade? Some highly popular and appreciated books right now are the novel “It Ends With Us” by E. Hoover, and if you are feeling a little down, “The Comfort Book” by M. Haig is a must-read this summer.
3. INCREASE YOUR MELANIN PRODUCTION NATURALLY
It’s not been proven if certain foods or vitamins can actually help you produce more melanin, but some studies suggest it should be possible. Either way, it’s just healthy foods, so it definitely won’t hurt to try!
More melanin means you’ll tan more easily and are less likely to burn, the tan stays on longer, and you are less prone to skin cancer and sun damage. However, if you are light-skinned you will obviously still be at high risk.
Ways to naturally increase melanin:
- This study suggests that antioxidants have a strong potential for increasing your melanin. Eat antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries and other berries, dark greens, and dark chocolate, or maybe add the tasteful super-antioxidant acai powder to your smoothie or oatmeal. Most Americans are actually super low in antioxidants compared to the rest of the world. This sucks, antioxidants are such a wonderful nutrient, working against many types of diseases (like heart diseases which the US is FULL of) and cancers. It also helps the body get rid of free radicals, and it’s important for cells and anti-aging.
- Vitamin E. Eat more vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts. You could also add in some supplements. This study, among several, shows that Vitamin E protects against sun damage.
- Vitamin A. Studies suggest that vitamin A is key for melanin production, it’s also a great vitamin for skin, eyes, hair, and nails. We are especially interested in vegetables containing beta carotene, which you might have heard of – it’s known as something that helps you get a deep and long-lasting tan. Foods rich in beta-carotene are carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Many people take beta carotene supplements and claim it works, however, there are yet no studies done. Pregnant women should not exceed the daily dose of vitamin A.
//Preventing photodamage with less time spent in the sun
4. USE SELF-TANNING PRODUCTS TO PREVENT PHOTODAMAGE
Fake it til you make it – consider using a fake tan. At least on your face, neck, and upper chest!
If you are off older generations, know that self-tanning products have come a loooong way, and you can now get a VERY nice and natural-looking tan with the correct products.
In a perfect world, you would stay away from both the sun and fake tan, but I assume you won’t do that.
Hot tips: For a natural-looking fake tan, apply some extra fake tan to your face where the sun hits. The spots where you usually get extra dark, like the forehead and nose. This gives a more real and sun-kissed look.
How to fake tan like a pro:
First, pick the correct type of product for your skin type and skin tone:
SELF-TANNERS FOR THE BODY:
You can choose between a mousse applied with a tanning mitt, or a spray. Sprays are much faster applied and it’s much easier to get an even result. The only downside is that sprays tend to run out faster. That’s the upside of the mousse, it’s more economical – BUT it takes a longer time to apply and it’s more difficult to get an even result.
When you have decided if you are a spray or mousse person, you have to decide what kind of undertone you want. The tanning products usually have a cool undertone with a green hue (don’t worry, you won’t turn green). Or a warm undertone with an orange hue. People usually prefer tanning products with cool/green undertones, as they often look more natural, and you end up with a golden tan. If you are a little darker and “dull”, consider using a warm-undertoned tan to correct your skin tone.
Most people prefer the results with a cool-toned tanning product.
Make sure you pick a good tanning product that gives you a long-lasting result. It’s also important that the fake tan has nice ingredients and fades away naturally, some products give a patchy and ugly fading.
The most popular and highly-rated self-tanning products, according to the people themselves:
Mousse/Foam: You need a mitt/glove for an even application, and this one from Bondi Sands is cheap and does its job well. This foam from Bondi Sands is totally affordable and gives a nice and long-lasting tan. Choose between light/medium, dark or ultra-dark. Another excellent choice, especially for people with very fair skin, is St.Tropez Bronzing mousse. This product lasts for a long time, it’s pretty clean and skin-friendly and it has a quite cool undertone.
Spray: The Body Drench Quick Tan is really a gold mine. Check it out yourself!
SELF-TANNERS FOR THE FACE:
A big plus with using a facial self-tanner is that it makes your dark circles less visible!
Ideally, you add a few self-tanning drops into your regular moisturizer, and then use your body spray or mousse on your forehead and nose, to achieve that sun-kissed natural look.
Self-tanning drops are extra gentle for the skin, and it gives a very natural but tanned finish.
The isle of paradise-drops is very popular and gives a cool finish. Personally, I’ve been using the James Read Gradual tan drops for years, I love it so much and always get compliments. Another popular option is Claris Glow Booster drops, which I also use from time to time.
Claris actually has a product with drops made for the body as well, where you just add a few drops to your body moisturizer. I’ve tried this and found that it didn’t really give me the tan intensity I’d like, but definitely a nice glow. Consider this if you are just seeking a glow and a slightly darker tint. You can find it here on Amazon.
HOW TO APPLY SELF-TANNER LIKE A PRO
- Exfoliate and moisturize your skin the day before applying
- Right before applying, add a moisturizer to your knees, hands, and elbows, but NOT the rest of your body
- Apply self-tanner. If you use a mousse, use your mitt in circular motions. When doing your hands, only use the excess product that’s already left on the mitt. If you use a spray, stand on a towel.
- Let it dry before you put on dark clothes. Let it stay on for 3+ hours. Ideally, you do the application before you go to sleep.
- Take a shower in the morning, and moisturize! Ta-daa!
- Make sure to moisturize every day to make it last and fade nicely. Repeat the process if you’d like an even darker tan.
5. WEAR HATS
Hats – Undoubtedly the world’s best sunscreen!
It protects both your eyes and face against sun rays.
If you fake your tan and use a good hat to protect your face, you are pretty much good to go for aging slowly while also being nice and sun-kissed.
Not to forget that hats look BOMB, and can lift even the most boring outfit. Either you like caps, stylish Copenhagen bucket hats, elegant straw hats, or cute crochet hats –
We’ve got you. Here’s some inspiration:
(Click on a hat to get redirected to the item on Amazon)
6. USE GOOD SKINCARE THAT TARGETS AND PREVENTS PHOTODAMAGE
Having a good skincare routine with well-proven ingredients suited for your skin type is mandatory(!) if you want your skin to look healthy and flawless. Here’s an article filled with the best and most effective skincare for your unique skin type.
Keep in mind that good skincare products don’t have to be expensive AT ALL. Here are 19 Cheap skincare products that are better than most high-end products.
But, for this sun-damage-related article, we are going to talk explicitly about the ingredients that are fantastic at treating and preventing photodamage and aging.
These scientifically-proven ingredients can be found in many different skincare products. However, it’s preferable if you use them as serums – this is because serums are lightweight and are able to penetrate deeper into the skin, rather than a cream that just sits on the surface, or a mask that just stays on for a short amount of time.
Do your regular cleansing process, apply serums with the ingredients listed below + other serums for other purposes like hydration. Finish with a surface protecting cream + SPF.
Skincare ingredients that are good for preventing and treating sun-damaged skin:
- Retinol. Retinol is actually the only proven ingredient that can make your lines/wrinkles remarkably smaller. It’s a powerful ingredient, also against general skin aging/photodamage, and acne/scarring. Note: Retinol makes your skin sun-sensitive, so it should only be used at night, and in periods where you don’t plan to spend the next day at the beach. Some people experience irritated skin in the beginning. Aim for 1% retinol, a supergood option is The Ordinary Retinol in Squalane, the squalane is non-clogging and soothing. I’ve used this for years, and even with sensitive skin, I’ve not experienced any discomfort. Another popular and more exclusive option is the Sunday Riley High Dose Retinol. There’s a huge amount of studies done on retinol.
Retinol is so good, that we have written an entire article about it: Retinol for Newbies – Everything you need to know.
- Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant. It brightens and evens out the skin tone and texture, and it reduces the appearance of signs of aging. Note that the big issue with vitamin c serums is that they tend to be very unstable, which causes oxidation on the skin = cellular damage, and aging. Therefore you should instead choose a vitamin c-powder, and mix it in with other serums or your moisturizer (not niacinamide or acids). This way, it won’t oxidize on your skin, and you just get those wonderful benefits of vitamin C. I mix a scoop of the L-Ascorbic Powder into my moisturizer. The skin feels so nice after. The product is cheap, clean, vegan, and lasts forever.
- Peptides. A “buffet product” of studied technologies to target multiple signs of aging at once. If the peptide serum is good, your skin will literally look better overnight. Unfortunately, peptide serums are a little expensive, but it’s definitely worth it, and you will get addicted and re-purchase again and again. ORPHEUS’ award-winning peptide complex is a good choice as it also contains vitamin c, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid – you literally get all the daily serums you need in one (except retinol). On the cheaper shelf, you’ll find Paulas’s choice peptide Booster and The Ordinary’s copper peptides!
- Zink supplements. Remember to take your zink supplements for more glowy and healthy skin and hair from within!
7. HOW TO TREAT ALREADY DAMAGED SKIN
Younger people have grown up with knowledge about the dangers of UV-rays and other fast-aging factors like smoking and eating processed foods and sugars. Even though some of us might have “looked the other way”, we still had the information available and got the choice of whether to take precautions or not.
If you are of the older generation, these kinds of dangers probably weren’t as well known.
Here are some drastic treatments that can help minimize photodamage:
- Chemical peels. Dermatologists can improve tone & texture, and remove dark spots and actinic keratoses with chemical acid peels.
- Cryotherapy. Works by freezing age spots or actinic keratoses.
- Topical Medications. You can get prescribed topical treatments like tretinoin (retinol). Usually prescribed to people with severe acne. These treatments are rough, so you might want to try a regular retinol serum first, like the ones mentioned above.
- Lasers. Minimizes fine lines & wrinkles, fades pigmentation and rough texture. If you have redness from too much sun exposure, try a pulsed dye laser.
Also, remember to get your moles checked regularly!
Back to magazine for more articles.
//How to enjoy the sun and be tan while preventing photodamage