I'm trying to come up with a foolproof strategy to keep the sun's damaging rays from aging my almost 40-year-old complexion. Truth be told, I didn't have this much disdain for the sun in my younger years. In fact, I had my fair share of tanning sessions with zero-SPF tanning oils, and yes, I did the whole tanning bed routine. But years later, after all those hours under the sun, I saw the effect on my skin: a splotchy complexion, tiny red moles all over, and the most disturbing of all, fine lines around my eyes. After that, I swore to never again bask in the sun—no matter how wonderfully golden it made my skin look (especially in photographs!).
I made the conscious decision to completely avoid the sun when I hit my 30s. I remember reading an interview with burlesque babe Dita Von Teese where she revealed that the secret to her youthful, practically flawless complexion is avoiding the sun and making sure to bring UV-blocking drapes wherever she travels to keep the rays of sunlight from peeping into her hotel room. That stuck with me.
I started googling celebrities' names and found a pattern: Those who worshipped the sun (Brigitte Bardot, Heidi Klum, and Victoria Beckham) looked much older than those who consciously protected themselves with hats or umbrellas during the summer or avoided the beach altogether (Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, and Tilda Swinton).
There are admittedly some cons to being fair-skinned, the most obvious of which is the tendency to appear bigger to the discerning eye, and this makes absolute sense. After all, light bounces off light colors. And when your skin is milky-white, light scatters, providing little or no dimension or shadows, thereby making your face and body look fairly larger. In other words, light isn't too forgiving to those who fall under the "porcelain" level of skin tone. Now, of course, it's one thing to be fair, but it's another thing to be pale or look unhealthy. "You need some sun" or "You must be anemic" are just some of the nasty comments I've received in the past and I've chosen to ignore them. After all, when I'm 60 and hopefully still look 40, I'll have the last laugh.
I'm fair because I choose to be healthy. I can honestly say that I've never tried a glutathione drip nor do I religiously apply whitening products, but I am very anal when it comes to applying SPF or simply avoiding the sun. This comes from the age-old principle that I adhere to: In the end, it's the sun that will age you, and you must do everything in your power to prevent UVA and UVB rays from speeding up the aging process.
More importantly, increased sun exposure comes with health-related risks. According to the American Cancer Society, one person dies of melanoma every 57 minutes. Vanity aside, skin cancer is fast becoming an epidemic, and unless we take SPF application seriously, the numbers will continue to rise. Changes in our environment and the ozone layer, aka the earth's natural sunscreen, have made it an absolute necessity to wear SPF on a daily basis, whether you'll be under the sun the entire day or vulnerable to incidental sun exposure (i.e., riding in a car, crossing the street, or stepping out to buy lunch).
A common misconception when it comes to SPF is that the higher it is, the more protection you'll get for a certain period of time. But here's how SPF really works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen should prevent burning for up to 15 times longer, or about five hours. If your skin burns in less than 20 minutes, you will need a higher SPF to be protected for the same amount of time. It's also important to take into consideration the amonut of SPF that you apply onto your skin, plus the time it takes for SPF to be absorbed properly. The proper amount is two tablespoons or a shot-glass-full for exposed areas on the face and body. For the face alone, a teaspoonful is recommended. Allow at least 20 minutes for your skin to fully absorb the benefits of your SPF.
I always like to emphasize that prevention is key—for anything. So whether you're age-conscious or avoiding a cancer scare, it's best to equip yourself with the right tools and attitude to keep yourself focused, prepared, and worry-free—for life.
*This article originally appeared in Preview Magazine's April 2016 issue.