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A Plastic Surgeon Answers Your Sunscreen FAQs

A Plastic Surgeon Answers Your Sunscreen FAQs

Our very own, Dr. Ahmad – Director of Research and Education at The Plastic Surgery Clinic, where Miracle 10 began – was recently interviewed by Hello! Magazine on all things SUNSCREEN. The full piece is running in July 17th's issue – look out for it!

We’re also publishing the interview here on the blog since it’s such an important topic. Are you confused about what sunscreen to wear, how much you really need, and what is the best method of application? Dr. Ahmad helps to dispel some of the most prevalent myths about this essential step in your skincare regimen.

What should we look for when choosing an SPF product? Minimum SPF? Broad spectrum? Should we avoid sunscreen products that don't have the UVA label on the packaging?

There are two main things to look for when choosing a sunscreen: the SPF, which refers to the sun protection factor, and whether the sunscreen is "broad spectrum" or not, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

If you are shopping for sunscreen in Canada, the chances are that any single one you pick up is broad-spectrum. It's always good to double-check, but most modern sunscreens are broadspectrum. If you have a sunscreen lying around without the "broad-spectrum" label, ditch it.

UVA rays are equally as harmful as UVB rays and can penetrate windows and cloud cover. Lastly, you'll want to look for an SPF of 30 or higher.

Why is UVA protection just as important as UVB?

Both UVA and UVB radiation are dangerous and carcinogenic. UVA radiation is associated with skin aging and can penetrate through windows and cloud cover. UVB radiation is associated with skin burning, with rays that cannot penetrate through windows.

Any type of unprotected exposure can contribute to the development of skin cancers and other damage such as premature aging.

Are powders, mists/sprays, etc. as effective as a traditional cream?

The trouble with powders and sprays is that there is more room for error in their application. It's not as easy to ensure even and sufficient coverage with a powder or spray as it is with a cream.

If you are using a spray, I recommend applying it extremely liberally, ensuring the spray is dispensing onto the skin, and then rubbing the sprayed area with your hands to double-check that it's been applied.

More is definitely best in this scenario! Compliance when it comes to reapplication can be an issue. If you are directly exposed to UV rays or you are sweating a lot, you’ll need to re-apply every two hours throughout the day.

For anyone who wears makeup, this can be an annoyance. In these situations, I recommend a powder-based sunscreen for reapplication – one that dispenses like a makeup product would. Just ensure enough product is actually dispensing!

How much sunscreen should we apply? How often? And are there any tips and tricks for applying enough sunscreen?

An even layer of sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin. In our practice, we see a lot of skin cancers along the hairline, the bridge of the nose, the tips of the ears, and in front of the ears. These are the areas most frequently missed during sunscreen application.

You should re-apply every two hours if you are outside OR if you spend the day in front of a window with the sun's rays beaming in. If that's not the case, we recommend applying in the morning, and then again before you head outside (this is when those powders really come in handy).

When applying sunscreen to your whole body, most people need an egg-sized amount of product. If only applying to the face and neck, aim for about a full tablespoon. Just how much to use will vary depending on your size, but the most important thing is to get an even, thorough application to all exposed areas.

Are there skincare ingredients/products that can help protect the skin from sun damage?

Your #1 defense against sun damage is, of course, sunscreen (and limiting your sun exposure as much as possible). Apply it daily and make sure to re-apply throughout the day. This is especially important during the summer months, at high altitudes, or when vacationing to sunny destinations.

There is no replacement for sunscreen. In addition to sunscreen, several ingredients help to guard against or improve pre-existing sun damage. Vitamin C can help to repair free radical damage caused by sun exposure as well as brighten the look of sun damage and reverse the signs of aging.

Retinol, a powerful antioxidant, packs a serious punch against free radical damage and helps to promote cell turnover and collagen production. Tranexamic acid, kojic acid and niacinamide are also great ingredients for targeting hyperpigmentation, sun damage and the signs of premature aging.

Can you use skin peels/ laser treatments to remove or reduce pigmentation?

Chemical peels are a great non-invasive way to lighten pigmented skin and lesions. There are also energy and light-based devices like Intense Pulse Light and Picoway that do a great job of clearing brown spots and other signs of damage.

Be sure to consult with a medical aesthetics practice that's overseen by a plastic surgeon, dermatologist or physician for such treatments, as efficacy and safety are huge factors for a positive outcome.

Are self-tanners a better/safer alternative to get that “sun-kissed” skin?

Absolutely! There is no such thing as a "safe" sun tan, so that's why we love self-tanners or spray tans.

Dr. Ahmad is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and is the Director of the University of Toronto Resident Aesthetic Surgery Clinic. He sits on the Board of Directors at the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, and is considered a world leader in the field of aesthetic plastic surgery, having authored more than 150 articles and book chapters on wide ranging topics, and co-authored two of the most definitive medical textbooks on rhinoplasty surgery.


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