The Only Anti-Sunspot Strategy That Works
My friend Sandra recently underwent a series of laser treatments to zap off a smattering of sunspots. It worked and she’s pleased with the results. She’s also terrified of having the spots come back (as you know, laser treatments are no small expense), and correctly assessed that once you’ve had sunspots, you’re forever susceptible to them. Thus, she contacted me, asking for a fail-safe, spot-prevention strategy. My answer in a word: Sunscreen. But not just any sunscreen. Which, I guess, is actually six words.
Almost any dermatologist will tell you that you should apply at least an SPF 30 to ensure you’re adequately covered. Everyone used to say SPF 15 was fine, but because so many of us under-applied our lotions, most M.D.s have upped that recommended number to 30 because a thin or sloppily-applied coat of SPF 30 will still give you about an SPF 15. But SPF isn’t the only consideration.
Manhattan dermatologist Neal Schultz, MD, says anyone who’s recently undergone lasering (or peeling) to remove hyperpigmentation ought to use a physical sun protection product, rather than a chemical one. Why? Physical blocks (titanium oxide or zinc oxide), deflect and scatter rays—whereas chemical sunscreens, (oxybenzone and avobenzone), act more like sponges and absorb them. The former is preferable for vulnerable post-laser skin, says Dr. Schultz, because it’s simply a better insurance policy. His analogy: “Imagine you have a cabin in the woods, and there are burglars lurking around. Which security system would you prefer? An alarm, akin to a chemical sunscreen, that goes off and alerts the police once the bad guys are in your house—or steel bars and locks that are like a physical sunblock and stop the burglars from ever getting inside in the first place.” Dr. Schultz also points out that physical blocks are less likely than chemical formulas to irritate a post-treatment complexion.
So, you know to look for SPF 30 (or higher) and to choose a physical formula. Now you have to actually put it on. Every day. Even the rainy ones. UV rays penetrate clouds so you aren’t safe from the sun, even when it’s not shining. And, if you’re outside for hours on end, reapply.
Reapplication rules are thus: Slather on a new coat of sunscreen every two to three hours if you’re spending the day outdoors. Put it on even sooner if you’ve been swimming (reapply as soon as you’re out of the water and dried off) or sweating heavily (ditto—stat!). If you’re not sitting outside for hours on end, but you are in and out of work or running errands, reapplying a lotion is pretty impractical. Especially if you’re wearing makeup. What I recommend is bringing along a translucent sunscreen powder and dusting it on right before you head out. Unlike chemical formulas, which take about twenty minutes to activate on the skin, a physical formula (and mineral powders are physical formulas), start blocking rays the second they hit your skin. Two I like: ColorScience Sunforgettable Loose Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 and Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF 45.
As for the best SPF 30+ physical blocks, my favorites are: Beauty Rx Chemfree Solar Defense Cream SPF 30 (part of Dr Schultz’s own line) which is creamy and moisturizing and leaves the skin a little dewy. Skinceuticals Physical Matte UV Defense Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 provides a shine-free finish and is lightly tinted so should not leave the skin looking chalky, one downside of some physical formulas. Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense SPF 30 contains some light-reflecting particles and leaves the skin looking radiant. Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen SPF 60+ is a relative bargain at only $12 and is good for acne-prone skin (I use it on Heath). Finally, Elta MD UV Physical Broad Spectrum SPF 41 leaves your skin lightly moisturized but not sticky, is also tinted to minimize chalkiness—and bills itself specifically for post-procedure skin.