Defending Your Dermis

Hey guys: Add some SPF to your routine

If you’re asked to do some quick word-association with “winter,” you’re apt to hear responses like “cold,” “snow,” “skiing” or “ice.” But what needs to come to mind is “sunscreen.”

“You really need to use it 365 days of the year,” says Dr. Philip Werschler, head of the Spokane Dermatology Clinic. “It’s easy to be careless on a cloudy day.”

And when it comes to using sunscreen, women are much better at protecting themselves than men, who “absolutely don’t use it as much as women,” says Werschler. “Sunscreen is perceived as a cosmetic, and men are just not as much into using skin care products as women.”

Of course, it can probably be assumed that, unless you live under a rock (thus making you a type of species that probably wouldn’t need sunscreen), you have heard about the effects of sun exposure: wrinkles, spotting and, worst of all, skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology’s website, protection from the sun is the primary means for preventing premature aging and skin cancer.

If people used sunscreen religiously, Werschler says, “probably half the cosmetics market would go away.”

But, forget the C-word (cosmetics) for now. Werschler has a simplified way of getting guys to use sunscreen.

“Men shave every day, and they need to make using sunscreen as much an everyday habit as shaving,” he says. “Apply some sort of moisturizer — not aftershave — that contains sunscreen. Once somebody starts doing that, they start to need it … They don’t want to go without moisturizing their face because the skin feels tight and dry.”

Women are much better at using sunscreen because they have the advantage of being the primary users of cosmetics, which almost always contain some level of sun protection factor. The AAD recommends an SPF of 30 and a product that is “broad-based.” That is, it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.

Most commercial sunscreens’ SPF factor relates to effectiveness against UVB rays — the rays that burn. Look for a product that also protects against UVA, the kind of rays that age the skin. (The challenge here is that the FDA has not adopted a rating system for UVA rays. The AAD’s advice is to look for these ingredients: avobenzone, cinoxate, ecamsule, menthyl anthranilate, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide.)

Whatever product you choose — and there are a lot of them — both women and men should adopt the “seat belt standard,” says Werschler. “Everyone needs to have the same attitude to using sunscreen as they do seat belts. When we get in the car, we all put on seat belts now — but it wasn’t always like that. It’s something we learned and, in the same way, we need to learn to use sunscreen.”

A quick, informal survey showed Werschler is probably right about sunscreen and the laissez-faire attitude of the lads. We asked six men, out and about on a nice sunny fall day in Spokane, about their sunscreen and seat belt habits. We got a six-pack of seatbelt users but just one sunscreen regular.

“I don’t really think it’s necessary, I guess,” said Lars. “No,” said Gordon. “No,” offers Nick. “Sometimes,” shrugged Billy, later echoed by Larry.

The one absolute “yes” was from Todd. “My wife had a small skin cancer on her nose, but I was [using sunscreen] before that,” he says.

The flip side of sun protection is making sure you get your Vitamin D. The AAD says it’s better to get Vitamin D, which the body naturally produces when skin is exposed to sunlight, from a good diet and supplements. There are some physicians who adamantly recommend getting Vitamin D with daily exposure to sunlight — say, 15 minutes. The AAD does not recommend this practice. (Without Vitamin D, the body can’t use calcium and phosphorus, which are essential to building healthy bones.)

Whether you’ve always been a sunscreener or, after reading this article, are committed to becoming one, now is the perfect time of year to do so.

Yes, we have said goodbye to summer and the summertime wardrobe of shorts, T-shirts and sandals. But snow season is upon us, meaning 80 percent of the sun’s rays still get through the clouds — and snow reflects 80 percent of those rays. In other words, sunscreen is a year-round necessity. During fall and winter, the AAD recommends covering any part of your body that will be exposed to the sky.

“It has to be a habit for everyone and, for guys, it’s probably going to be a reluctant habit,” says Werschler, who points out a nasty alternative: “Once you start getting your face cut on for skin cancer surgery, it’s not fun.”

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