7 ways dermatologists protect their skin – without totally avoiding the sun

You can protect your skin without avoiding the sun.
You can protect your skin without avoiding the sun.

The sun’s dark side, quantified: It is behind 80% of wrinkles and spots, and is the primary cause of skin cancer.

How can you enjoy a minute outdoors knowing that? The same way dermatologists do – with the clever protection methods they’ve developed to save their own skin.

They’ve read (or written) all the studies. They’ve researched and tested countless products. And they witness, daily, the effects of too much UV exposure in their patients. But in one very important way, dermatologists are just like us!

They still go out into the world and worry about the health of their own skin. So what do they actually do with this knowledge? How do they boil it down into doable steps for everyday mornings and beach-day activities?

We polled dermatologists about the educated tweaks they make to a typical SPF routine. This full-access guide to protecting your skin like a doctor starts with, of all things, toothpaste.

Read more: 8 sunscreens that won’t leave you a greasy, ashy mess this summer

They keep their sunscreen next to their toothpaste

Giving sunblock a front-and-centre spot on the bathroom sink serves as the greatest reminder to put it on every morning.

“I’ve been doing this for years,” says dermatologist Dr Ranella Hirsch. The habit is backed by science: a recent study showed that participants who stored SPF next to their toothpaste had a 20% increase in use compared with the group who kept it elsewhere.

Read more: Are you wearing the right sunscreen for your skin type?

They choose their SPF level mathematically

When sunscreens are tested in the lab under perfect conditions, scientists determine their SPF based on using a super-thick (some say impractical) amount to cover skin.

“Studies have shown that people tend to under-apply sunscreen and that it wears off over the course of two hours,” says dermatologist Dr Macrene Alexiades.

SPF numbers stand for the rough measure of time a person who has applied the sunscreen can stay out in the sun without getting burned. How do you work this out? By calculating the time it takes you to burn with a sunscreen and dividing it by  the time taken for you to burn without a sunscreen.

“If you burn in 300 minutes with a sunscreen and 10 minutes without a sunscreen, that’s 300/10 = 30. So the sunscreen will have an SPF of 30,” explains dermatologist Dr Nomphelo Gantsho.

Every single dermatologist we polled said the minimum they reach for on regular days is SPF 30.

“No matter what the SPF is (30+ or 50+), consumers should reapply it every two hours if they are in the sun all day,” says Dr Gantsho.

Read more: 6 things we bet you never knew about your SPF

They check off body parts like a to-do list

These doctors spend all day examining people from head to toe – and they’ve seen the places where skin cancer pops up and wrinkles set in. In addition to the tops of and behind ears, backs of hands, knees and tops of feet, there are three other places that seem obvious, but we regularly forget.

“I see a lot of that plucked chicken skin on the sides of people’s necks. Our chins protect the center of the neck a bit from the sun, but not the sides. I always make sure I’ve applied my facial SPF down and around my whole neck,” says dermatologist Dr Doris Day.

The other often-overlooked areas are between your toes and along the hairline.

“I witness a ton of brown spots in front of the ears as well as on the top of the forehead, so I start my facial sunscreen at the periphery, then get more product if I need to once I reach my nose,” says Dr Day.

Others dust a powder SPF through those face-framing baby hairs if they don’t want to gunk them up with a cream.

Read more: 6 ways to soothe that painful sunburn – ouch!

They work in layers

Most dermatologists agree that the standard measurements recommended for sunscreen – a teaspoon for the face, a shot glass for the body – are completely lost on everyone (including themselves – except for the one dermatologist we spoke to who actually measures it out!).

Instead, nearly all of them apply in layers to get sufficient coverage – and rub in different directions on round two. “This ensures I haven’t missed a spot,” says dermatologist Dr Vivian Bucay.

Oh, and they do this while naked: “Doing so avoids burns along the edges of a bathing suit or clothes, which I often see in patients,” says dermatologist Dr Emmy Graber.

Still unsure if you’ve applied enough? Our dermatologists insist that you’re properly covered only when you can see the results glistening on your skin.

Read more: Ever wonder why you still end up burnt – even after applying SPF?

They start the morning with coffee… and antioxidants 

But first, coffee: dermatologist Dr Whitney Bowe upped her java intake from 236ml to 355ml after reading a recent study that showed more coffee equals a lower risk of developing malignant melanoma.

As for antioxidants, they’re a safety net, protecting against free radicals that slip through the cracks of your SPF – which one study showed can be up to 45%!

“There’s research that says the combination of ferulic acid with vitamins C and E can increase your sunscreen’s SPF by eight,” says dermatologist Dr Tina Alster.

If a two-step routine is one step too many, dermatologist Dr Diane Berson loves the new wave of sunscreens with strong antioxidants built in. Both Dr Day and Dr Alexiades also follow antioxidant-rich Mediterranean diets to help protect against UV damage from the inside.

Read more: Everything you need to know about heat rash (and how to prevent it)

They wear lip gloss only after dark 

“Anything super shiny can act like a magnifier and enhance the penetration of sunlight – I’ve seen lots of patients wear lip gloss outside and get so sunburned their lips were puffy,” says Dr Graber, adding that lower-lip skin cancers are common and, in her experience, often likely to spread. During the day, the pros prefer lip balm with SPF.

And don’t be shy about reapplying – it’s the first place sunscreen disappears because we’re constantly licking our lips, eating and drinking.

Or try this move from dermatologist Dr Amy Wechsler: “I close my mouth and do a pass over my lips when I put on my regular sunscreen to cover them with the formula.”

Read more: 5 vitamins that will give you glowing skin all year long

They pimp their rides 

Studies demonstrate that the UV exposure we get through car windows can do a lot of damage – a famous one looked at the (shockingly) accelerated weathering on the left side of the face of a truck driver; another showed an increase in skin cancers on Americans’ left side of the face and left arm.

“I see this in my practice – it’s pretty incredible to be treating 10 pre-cancers on one side and zero on the other all because of extra sun exposure,” says dermatologist Dr Ellen Marmur.

In fact, one recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology showed side windows allow an average of 25% more UVA rays, the type associated with skin cancer and the visible signs of skin ageing.

Dermatologists know to apply any exposed skin before they start the engine.

“Don’t forget your hands,” says Dr Kimberly Butterwick. “Women, especially, get a ton of age spots there – I think they tend to keep their hands at the top of the wheel.”

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
34% - 9270 votes
66% - 17915 votes