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Sun care & protection: The surprising facts you need to know

There’s a lot more to know about shielding your skin from the sun than simply topping up your SPF every two hours, says SUZANNE SCOTT


Nothing beats that feeling of sipping a cocktail after a day at the beach, your (SPF-ed) skin still warm from the sun. But while we know that regularly reapplying facial sunscreen and sun protection is good, we could be doing better. Whether it’s protecting yourself from the inside as well as the outside or understanding the new science surrounding after-sun care, there are additional steps we could be taking to save our skin from UV damage. Find out how to tan safely now…

Keep your cool

UV is not the only culprit when it comes to skin damage – heat can be just as harmful. A study in Seoul found that just 30 minutes of heat exposure three times a week can damage skin in as little as six weeks. “Infrared light generates heat in the skin, which most sunscreens can’t protect against,” explains Dr Nick Lowe, a consultant dermatologist. “This seems to worsen melasma (a pattern of pigmentation also known as the ‘pregnancy mask’), so it’s sensible to cool your skin after sun exposure.” It can be as simple as taking a cold shower – before you apply aftersun – to quickly lower your skin temperature.

Add antioxidants

Sunscreens do not entirely block UV rays,” says Dr Lowe. “There will always be some that hit their target.” He suggests adding another layer of protection. “Apply an antioxidant serum to your skin and allow it to dry for a few minutes before applying sun protection. This will reduce some – though not all – of the damage caused by the UV rays that get past your sun protection.” Oral antioxidant supplements, such as those from Heliocare, are also a good idea: they combine antioxidants and phytoprotectors to mitigate sun damage.

Protect against pollution

We know pollution is bad news for skin, but when it’s coupled with UV, it creates the perfect storm for premature aging, hyperpigmentation and irritation. “Pollution weakens the skin’s protective barrier, stripping it of any natural armor against UV,” says Düsseldorf-based esthetic doctor Dr Barbara Sturm. “Always cleanse your skin properly morning and evening, and if you live in a polluted area, don’t use harsh glycolic acids, which can weaken the skin barrier further; go for skin-strengthening ingredients such as ceramides and antioxidants.”

After-dark aftercare

It sounds counterintuitive to protect skin against UV in the evenings, but that’s exactly what the experts want us to do. A recent study by Yale School of Medicine shows that sun damage (the kind that can lead to melanoma) continues for up to three hours after being in the sun. As a result, researchers are developing specific ‘evening after’ suncare that goes further than a traditional aftersun to counteract the damage. In the meantime, experts suggest applying protective vitamin E to skin after leaving sunlight, and following up with an aftersun three hours later.

The key ingredient

Aftersun is the unsung skin hero we often forget to use, but it’s a vital step that helps reduce skin’s healing time. “Even with sunscreen, the skin is still under duress in the sun,” explains Dr Sturm. “Aftersun care contains antioxidants and hydrating and healing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, panthenol and aloe vera to encourage cells to heal and rejuvenate.” From now on, consider it essential – even once you’re home. It will help extend that post-vacation glow, and keep skin smooth and hydrated.


The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown.