Getting a bit of sunshine every day is good for your mind, body and soul, especially right now. There's no better cure for quarantine fatigue than spending time outside, soaking up the vitamin D rays and fresh air. 😎
But, as we all know, catching rays on naked skin (as in, without sunscreen) is a big no-no that can increase the risk of skin cancer and cause our skin to look much older than it needs to. We need to wear sunscreen every day, including cloudy, rainy or cold days. We should even wear it when we’re staying indoors. UVA rays penetrate through clouds and glass, so if your home or apartment has a window (which we’re hoping it does), your skin is at risk of premature aging, hyperpigmentation and other signs of sun damage.
Yes, sunscreen is huge in the fight against hyperpigmentation. We chatted with a few dermatologists about why we should be wearing sunscreen every day and how it can help to prevent existing spots from worsening and reduce the likelihood of future hyperpigmentation. Here’s what they had to say.
How is the sun related to dark spots?
Hyperpigmentation is essentially caused by an overproduction of melanin, the pigment in our skin. This can be triggered by a bad breakout, too much time in the sun, a rash or an injury to the skin.
“UV rays stimulate pigment-producing cells, leading to hyperpigmentation,” explains Dr. Susan Bard, an NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist. “This is especially true if one has existing inflammation in the skin, like acne. Inflammation activates pigment-producing cells, causing them to release their pigment into the skin. Sun exacerbates darkening by further activating these cells, leading to even greater pigment deposition.”
If your skin is smooth and skin tone is uniform (without any dark spots), the pigment appears evenly distributed, as a “tan.” But if you have bumps, inflammation from acne or existing dark spots, the increased pigment deposits will make your spots even darker and more obvious. This uneven distribution is hyperpigmentation, which can also appear as freckles, age spots or melasma.
How does sunscreen prevent hyperpigmentation?
Your skin cells produce excess melanin as a protective measure in response to UV light. So, when SPF blocks that light, it also prevents the melanin production in the first place. “For any type of unwanted pigment, your dermatologist will recommend sun protection as part of your plan,” explains Todd Minars, a Florida-based, board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. “By blocking your skin's ability to darken those hyperpigmentation regions, you'll achieve a more even tone.”
All pigment that results from sun exposure, including a tan, is a sign of skin damage. Once you get into the habit of using sunscreen every day, it becomes a natural part of your routine (kinda like wearing deodorant) instead of an extra step that you need to remember. And your brighter, clearer skin will thank you for years to come.
Physical? Chemical? Which sunscreen do I choose?
While any sunscreen is better than none, all of the dermatologists we spoke to said to opt for physical sunscreen whenever possible. “Always choose a physical blocker — these do not get absorbed on the skin, as they sit on the surface to reflect the UV rays,” says Dr. Vindhya Veerula, an Indiana-based, board-certified dermatologist and medical advisor for eMediHealth. “Chemical blockers are first absorbed, then block UV rays. Overall, physical blocks are safer for your body and the environment, and are my go-to recommendation.” Plus, the mineral-based ingredients in physical sunscreens, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are recognized by the FDA as safe and effective.
If you do use a chemical sunscreen, be sure to check the label and avoid any of the chemicals that the FDA has determined can stay in the bloodstream for an extended period of time: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate.
How does sunscreen work? Check out Suncare 101 for a refresher.
If you’re afraid of the white cast sometimes left behind by physical sunscreens, Veerula recommends Colorescience Total Protection Face Shield SPF 50. This hypoallergenic sunscreen is not only one of the best sunscreens for sensitive skin, but its tinted formula will blend right in and enhance your natural glow. It protects skin against UVA/UVB, pollution, blue (HEV) light and infrared radiation. $39 at amazon.com
Another good choice, NeoStrata Sheer Hydration SPF 35 contains grape seed extract (which is packed with vitamin E to help fade dark spots). Its lightweight formula absorbs quickly and invisibly, making it an ideal sunscreen for dark skin. $48 at neostrata.com
And if you’re looking for an everyday sunscreen for hyperpigmentation at a lower price point, Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer contains soy complex, which helps even out skin tone and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. $14 at amazon.com
Treat your dark spots today, avoid more spots tomorrow
If you are suffering from hyperpigmentation, Micropoint for Dark Spots can help get rid of your spots fast. Formulated with ultra-hydrating hyaluronic acid, anti-inflammatory tranexamic acid and clarity-boosting niacinamide, the twice-weekly microneedle patch brightens post-pimple spots in just two uses.
And even if you don’t have hyperpigmentation now, dark spots are bound to happen to just about everyone at some point in their lives. Using sunscreen every day is a great way to avoid hyperpigmentation as much as possible, and to ensure that you don’t worsen any existing spots.