For Teen Vogue, by Deanna Pai.
Beauty myths are a dime a dozen. Put toothpaste on the zit! Hair will grow back thicker if you shave it! But in the summer, there tends to be more confusion than usual. Can the sun really help your acne? Is it better to have SPF 200 than SPF 20? Here, the questions to everything you could possibly know to keep your skin safe and smooth all season long.
So, can the sun really dry up my acne?
Technically, sunlight really can have a beneficial effect on that breakout. “Sunlight is composed of different wavelengths of light, and some wavelengths can have anti-inflammatory effects on the skin and can suppress acne-causing bacteria,” explains Jennifer Chwalek, MD, of Union Square Laser Dermatology. On top of that, she adds, there’s new evidence that vitamin D (which you get from sun exposure as well as certain foods) may play a role in sebum production and pore health. So that’s why sunlight can clear up acne — but even if it works, that doesn’t mean you should try it. “The risk of burning and developing sun damage — which can lead to skin cancer — outweighs any benefit,” says Chwalek.
If I don’t have aloe vera, what’s the next best thing for a breakout?
Aloe vera is the gold standard for treating sunburns, and for good reason: Since it’s about 96% water and packed with both amino acids and antioxidants, it heals burns more quickly than other alternatives. But if you don’t have any on hand, you’re not SOL. “Following a burn, it’s important to cool and moisturize the skin,” says Chwalek. She recommends applying a cool compress and a fragrance-free moisturizer, which will help take down any discomfort and dryness. Ibuprofen is also a great option, since it helps reduce swelling and redness.
Which is better for you — mineral or physical sunscreen?
In the past, the great debate between mineral and physical sunscreens was more about personal preference (since mineral sunscreens, which protect skin with ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, can be chalkier than their counterparts). Most natural sunscreens tend to use mineral blockers, too. But a recent Consumer Reports study found that a whopping 48% of sunscreens tested don’t actually have the SPF value they claim to, especially when it comes to mineral sunscreens (only 26% in this category offer the SPF advertised). So unless you have a really good reason to get mineral sunscreen (which may be better for sensitive skin), it’s better to opt for chemical sunscreens.
Will a base tan really protect skin from the sun?
Nope. So much nope. “Any tan is damage to your skin and over time will contribute to the development of wrinkles, sun spots, skin laxity, and, even worse, skin cancer,” explains Chwalek. Whether it’s your “base tan” or the tan you get halfway through vacation, a tan is a tan — which isn’t anything besides a visible and immediate sign of sun damage.
Is a higher SPF number always better?
First, a quick lesson on what SPF actually means. It stands for Sun Protective Factor and only measures protection against UVB rays, or those responsible for sunburns. UVA rays, on the other hand, don’t cause sunburns but can lead to photo damage (AKA wrinkles and dark spots) and skin cancer. To ensure you’re getting coverage for both, your sunscreen should be labeled “broad-spectrum.” The SPF number actually denotes the amount of time you’re protected. Multiplying it by the amount of time it takes you to burn without protection gives you the number of minutes your SPF protects you. So, “if a person typically burns in ten minutes without protection, with an SPF of 15 and exposure to the same intensity of light, he or she should be protected for up to 150 minutes,” explains Chwalek. Once you get up to SPF 30, which blocks almost 97% of UVB rays, it only makes a minimal difference. You’re better off reapplying a lower SPF more often than going for an off-the-charts SPF.