When people find out what I do, they always ask me, “What can I do for my skin?” And when I tell them that the number one thing they should do is "wear sunscreen”, it is often met with disappointment. They want me to tell them about some miracle potion that’s going to magically transform their skin but, the thing is, wearing sunscreen every day, even in winter,
even when the weather is like it is right now in January, is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to slow down the build up of age spots and wrinkles that are the signs of ageing.
But can't I only get sun damage in the summer?
No. I wear sunscreen every day. Even if I’m going to walk the dog at 8 o’clock in the morning I wear sunscreen and I wear a hat. Why? Because 90% of the visible signs of ageing we see on the face are due to the cumulative impact of ultraviolet light exposure. That’s not just the burning summer sunshine, that's boring old everyday grey daylight. That's because there are two types of rays in sunlight which can damage your skin: UVA and UVB.
UVB rays are the burning rays, and, yes, they are only really hot in the UK during the summer but it is UVA that is the sneakiest. UVA is a longer wavelength and is present in daylight – all day long, all year round. It's effect may seem small, unlike the very visible and painful sunburn you get from over exposure to UVB, but it all adds up over time and is what causes all the things we associate with ageing skin: the age spots, wrinkles, rough skin, and pigmentation marks. Wearing sunscreen will reduce all those problems.
Also, there’s some interesting new research showing that if you wear sunscreen it kind of gives your skin a break from having to defend itself against environmental aggressors, such as sunshine and pollution, and having that break enables the skin to repair itself.
So wearing sunscreen not only helps you protect against future damage but it also enables your skin to go on repairing itself. Why would you not wear it?
And, if you do tweakments, it’s absolutely crucial. You’re paying all that money to have some improvements made to your face, so don’t you want to invest in a product that’s going to protect your investment by preventing future damage?
There's a classic case study I have seen at dermatological conferences of a lovely older lady from the Welsh Valleys. She’d never been out of the Welsh Valleys so her skin was pretty pale. The picture they show is of the areas of her skin that have been exposed to the sun through wearing short-sleeved dresses with scoop necks compared to the skin on her shoulders and upper arms which had always been covered. On the exposed skin she had freckling, and darker patches of skin, but where she had always covered up the skin was absolutely milky white. That’s the kind of skin she would have aged 60 if she’d never been in the sun. So, if you want a face like a baby’s bottom, wear sunscreen.
Won't I become vitamin D deficient if I wear sunscreen every day?
One of the main objections I hear to wearing sunscreen every day is about vitamin D. We are becoming more and more conscious about the importance of vitamin D, especially as it has recently been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic with the NHS offering those at high risk supplementation.
We all need vitamin D and, yes, we are all short of vitamin D, particularly in the UK in the winter. We build up stores of vitamin D in our skin during the summer, but it doesn’t last that long. The quickest way to get vitamin D is from exposing your skin to sunlight but, unless you live south of Mallorca, you are not going to get strong enough sunlight to make vitamin D in your skin during the winter. It's a choice. I personally will never put my face in the sun without SPF. I prefer to expose areas like my legs, arms and back by wearing sleeveless tops and shorts when the sun is strong enough in the summer, and take vitamin D supplements when I need them in the winter.