I slather SPF on my face every morning. I rarely go to the beach or pool. I'm never in search of a tan — I embrace the pale! So why does my face look so messed up?
That was my question for the American Academy of Dermatology's Bethanee J. Schlosser, MD, PhD, FAAD, after getting photos taken of my face using a special device called the Reveal Imager UV camera (check out the video below for more pictures from the camera).
Reveal it certainly does – for the first time I saw what the sun has done to my skin. It was horrifying. And then when I found out one in five Americans will get skin cancer and one American dies from melanoma every hour, my horror multiplied.
First, a disclaimer: They're, well, not the most flattering images. I was instructed to go in with a clean face, wearing zero makeup — my adult acne on display in all its spotty glory.
Out popped three photos: a "normal" photo on the left, another revealing vascular (blood) flow in the middle, and the big one, a photo of all the sun damage lurking under the surface of my skin.
Once you get past the fact that I look like a demon, you can see I have tons of brown spots all over my face, just waiting to make their debut. Yep, that's sun damage, and years down the road they can emerge — first as a few "cute" freckles, but later as the larger, unattractive sun spots that people go to desperate measures to hide.
"Even the smartest sun protectors who think they're doing everything they can are surprised at the sun damage they see," Dr. Schlosser says. "It's a reminder that even what you can't see can hurt you. The good news is you can do something about it."
Even though my photos make me look like a sun-damaged zombie, Schlosser reassured me that it's never too late to change my behaviors. Sun damage is cumulative, so whatever I do now to protect my skin will help stave off future spots and wrinkles and prevent skin cancer. Here are a few things I'm going to be sure to do from now on.
How to Properly Protect Your Skin From Sun Damage
1. Use the right sunscreen. I typically apply a moisturizer with SPF 15 in the morning after I shower. Schlosser says to ramp it up to SPF 30 and look for one with broad-spectrum protection to guard against both UVA and UVB rays.
2. Remember to reapply. I go out at noon — when the sun is at its strongest — to walk my dog, and I don't typically reapply sunscreen before or after that, but I should. "Reapply every two hours," says Schlosser. "Sooner if you're sweating or in the water."
3. Use the right amount. I need to make sure I'm slathering on enough sunscreen —people are often too skimpy with the stuff, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, which recommends using a shot glass-sized (1 ounce) amount on all exposed body parts. Hands and neck are typical places people forget, but they show your age the fastest, says Schlosser. "Look at a red carpet celeb: You'll be able to tell her age by looking at her neck," she says.
4. Cover up. I know, I know, you've heard it before. But there really is more to sun protection than good sunscreen habits. When you go out, sport a broad-brimmed hat (so cute right now) clothes made from a light fabric that can cover your skin but also keep you cool and even consider carrying an umbrella.
5. Check yourself. Schlosser recommends looking for any changes on your skin once a month when you hop out of the shower. Ask a friend or family member to do a scan of your back, which is where melanoma is most commonly found.
What are you looking for? To detect skin cancer, look for the ABCDEs:
- Border irregularity
- Color that varies
- Diameter greater than 6mm
- Evolving in size, shape or color
Finding a suspicious mole can be scary, but it's important to tell your dermatologist about it. It might not be skin cancer, but if it is, earlier detection is better. "When caught early, skin cancer is very curable, even melanoma," says Schlosser.