Remember all those times we told you to wear sunscreen every single day to keep aging away? We have even more research showing that you should slather up often. A study done in Australia has confirmed what studies on mice and dermatologists have been saying for years: Using sunscreen daily stops photoaging.
And here’s a spoiler: If you’re using sunscreen, but not using it daily and reapplying after a few hours or after swimming or heavy sweating, you’re doing your skin a disservice. The best effects are seen with those who use sunscreen every single day and reapply often.
The Study: Daily Sunscreen vs. Discretionary Use
The study had 900 white participants who were younger than 55-years-old. One group was randomly assigned to apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more to their head, neck, arms, and hands in the morning after washing, after spending several hours outside, or after sweating heavily. Another group was asked to use sunscreen at their discretion. Across both groups participants were also randomly assigned either 30 mg beta-carotene or a placebo pill (Annals of International Medicine).
This amounted to four groups: regular sunscreen use with beta-carotene, regular sunscreen use with a placebo, discretionary sunscreen use with beta-carotene, and discretionary use with a placebo.
The study took place between 1992 and 1996, and lasted a total of four-and-a-half years. Researchers took impressions of the participants’ skin at the beginning and end of the study, and had these impressions assessed by researchers who were not aware of who was using sunscreen or taking beta-carotene. These assessors gave a score from 0 to 6, with 0 being smooth, elastic skin with absolutely no photoaging, and 6 being wrinkled, inelastic skin with severe photoaging.
The Results: Daily Sunscreen Can Prevent Photoaging!
In the beginning, both groups had a median of 4. By the end of the study, the group who used sunscreen every day still had a median of 4, while a group who used sunscreen at their discretion had a median of 5. The group using sunscreen daily had 24% less aging than the group using sunscreen at their discretion. Researchers saw no difference between the beta-carotene supplement and placebo groups.
And it’s worthwhile to note that neither group had bad habits in the sun, notes Dr. Barbara A. Gilchrist, dermatology professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and editor of The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. This merely illustrates the difference between groups who use sunscreen every single day, and those who use it at their discretion — but all of them use sunscreen.
Some of the studies limitations were that about one-third of participants did not have molds taken at the beginning and end, the study did not investigate the effects on individuals over 55-years-old, and the study only looked at the effects of daily or discretionary sunscreen use light-skinned people, and the study was too small to be confident in the results on beta-carotene.
Which Sunscreen Should You Use?
Believe it or not: Up to 90% of visible aging comes from damage from UV exposure. This is particularly true in the case of premature aging. As the study above indicates, the best protection from aging is sunscreen; but what’s the best sunscreen to use?
Overall, I prefer physical-mineral sunscreens, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (which physically stop the rays) over organic-chemical sunscreens like avobenzone and oxybenzone (which absorb UV rays and convert them into a less harmful form of energy). Both offer excellent levels of protection, but there are several reasons why physical-mineral sunscreens might be a better choice overall. Organic-chemical sunscreens are less photostable than physical-mineral sunscreens, and because of this, are more likely to cause irritation (Chemical Research in Toxicology). And organic-chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin more than physical-mineral sunscreens, which are too large to penetrate the past the stratum corneum (Journal of Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Science, Toxicological Science).
[Read More: Are Inorganic Sunscreens Better than Organic Ones?]
And zinc oxide is a better physical blocker than titanium dioxide by virtue of having more broad-spectrum protection. There are two kinds of UV rays: UVA (aging) rays and UVB (burning) rays. Both block UVB rays, but zinc oxide blocks more UVA rays than titanium dioxide (Skin Pharmacology and Physiology).
Here are some sunscreens that are either completely physical-mineral or a mix of physical-mineral and organic-chemical, along with the percentages of active ingredients in each, with high amounts of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Remember, the addition of an antioxidant serum, like our Vitamin CE Caffeic Serum, has been proven to help boost the effectiveness of sunscreen (Journal of Investigative Dermatology).
But if you want something that does a little extra in addition to sun protection for your skin, consider…
PCA Skin Weightless Protection SPF 45 ($19.94, amazon.com) (9% zinc oxide, 7.5% octinoxate) — PCA contains brightening ingredients like kojic acid, as well as mulberry and licorice extracts, and an extra boost of antioxidants in the form of vitamin E.
NIA24 Sun Damage Prevention 100% Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 (9.45% titanium dioxide, 3.6% zinc oxide) — NIA24 contains 5% Pro-Niacin, a vitamin B3 derivative that has been shown to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmented spots, sallow skin, and red blotchiness (Dermatologic Surgery).*Note: With this sunscreen, you should not use a vitamin C serum, as L-ascorbic acid should not be used with niacinamide.
If you haven’t been wearing sunscreen every single day and reapplying it often, now is the time to start. This recent research study proves what past studies, dermatologists, and FutureDerm has been saying for years: Daily use of sunscreen will keep you looking younger longer, and will help prevent skin cancer. Thinking of sunscreen application like brushing your teeth, something you do regularly, can make a huge difference in your skin in the long run.
Contributing author: Natalie Bell