Nicole Kidman is known for her beautiful porcelain skin, and she credits that to a strict sunscreen regimen. “I wouldn’t have paid any attention to the [sunscreen] messaging if I had had olive skin,” she said at a recent Neutrogena Sun Event (she’s a spokesperson for the brand). “But because I was so fair, I would burn within 15 minutes and my holiday would be over… I’m also pale and I want to stay pale.”
Her passion for sunscreen is about more than just having beautiful skin, it’s about keeping her and her family safe from skin cancer. “My parents have also had skin cancer, so I have to be really, really careful — I use the SPF 100. I know it sounds like a lot, but it isn’t. I use it on my kids. I use it on myself. I’ve always had to do that.” She told Allure. “It started because as a kid, I didn’t want to get freckles. Then, I started researching it, which is kind of my tendency anyway. I love to research. Because this is all scientifically based and clinically proven, it’s a very, very good fit for me because I have to have proof. That’s just kind of who I am… Being of Irish, English origin, skin cancer is a huge concern. You have to be diligent. It’s just a given, whether it’s genetically a part of your family, which it is in mine, or whether you’ve had a lot of sun exposure, we all have to be careful.” Kidman also admitted that while she wears sunscreen regularly now, she wasn’t as diligent in her youth. She stated that, as a result, she has had a “number of things removed,” including a basal cell.
The Dangers of Sun Damage
Nicole is right to be concerned about skin cancer. More than 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. More than two people die of the disease every hour. Melanoma and skin cancer are growing issues in the U.S., and it is paramount that people be wearing sunscreen and reapplying it often.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “unprotected sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. More than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, affecting 2 million people. At current rates, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime. About 75 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma, and the incidence of melanoma has been rising for at least 30 years… Scientific evidence supports the benefits of sunscreen usage to minimize short- and long-term damage to the skin from UV radiation and outweighs any unproven claims of toxicity or human health hazard,” said Dr. Daniel M. Siegel, MD, FAAD, president of the Academy. “To reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging, dermatologists continue to recommend generously applying a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen — that protects against both types of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) — with an SPF 30 or higher, in conjunction with other sun-safe practices such as limiting sun exposure, seeking shade, and wearing sun-protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses.”
And daily sunscreen doesn’t just protect you from skin cancer, but it also helps you look younger (just look at Nicole Kidman for proof of this)! Up to 90% of visible aging comes from damage from UV exposure. This is particularly true in the case of premature aging.
Which Sunscreen Should You 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).
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).
Why She Uses SPF 100 Daily (And Your Should Too)
Nicole and I have something in common, we both only use SPF 100+! She shared her daily SPF routine in a recent interview with the LA Times. “I use Neutrogena’s 100+ sunscreen because I can put it on and then put my makeup on and go out and work in the sun with no hat on. Their sheer zinc 50 plus is good as well because it’s waterproof. I use it if I’m surfing or swimming.” And she recently told The Cut, ”I reapply all the time. I was just shooting outside last week. It was almost 100 degrees in NYC. I was out in the sun all day from beginning to end. I reapplied SPF 100+, which is crazy, but I didn’t get burnt once.” She said, “it’s amazing how a lot of people don’t know that. And yes, I put it on over makeup. Because it’s sheer touch, it doesn’t smudge as much. I put it on and then we reapply makeup over it.”
But don’t just take our word for it; science backs it up! According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, SPF 100+ sunscreen was 3-5 times more effective in protecting against sunburn than SPF 50+ sunscreen in actual use conditions. (Even higher than in theory!) The study took 199 men and women who wore both SPF 50+ and 100+ sunscreens simultaneously during activities, with no use restrictions other than designation of the treatment area. Erythema was clinically assessed on the day following exposure. Comparative efficacy was evaluated through bilateral comparison of sunburn between treatment areas and erythema score, as evaluated separately for each treatment area.
“Didn’t matter your skin type, age, or gender, the SPF 100 was always better,” Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center and an author on the study, which was funded by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., tells Allure. When it came to redness (erythema), 40.7% of the SPF 50 group had redness following sun exposure, as opposed to just 13.6% of the SPF 100 group.
And the results were more significant when it came to sunburn. “People were about 10 times more likely to burn on the SPF 50 side than the SPF 100 side,” Rigel says. Given the results, the researchers concluded that SPF 100 is “significantly more effective in protecting against sunburn than SPF 50.” The reason for this? Consumer compliance. Remember that SPF is calculated using 2.0 mg per square centimeter of skin — about 1/3 to 1/2 a teaspoon for the average face, and that’s reapplying every four hours. Most people don’t use near that amount of sunscreen, nor do they reapply as frequently as they should. The result is that people are getting a lot less protection from SPF 30 than they think, and certainly a lot less than when using SPF 100+.
Not only does sunscreen prevent premature aging and damage, but it also protects you from skin cancer! And the higher the SPF the better, as SPF 100+ has been proven to be more effective. If you don’t take my word for it, take Nicole Kidman’s! She follows a very strict sunscreen routine, and it sure pays off. At 52 she is looking better than ever.