“Stay out of the sun!” Hands up if this was the earliest beauty advice you ever received from your mum, grandmother or an aunty. Growing up in London, seeing the sun is a rare treat so when the sun did make an appearance (maybe 2-3 weeks a year), my best friends and I would put on our favorite tanning oil and out to the fields and parks we went! I was always the envy of the group because I tan fastest and never burned. At 14 years old, this was a badge of honor––in fact this was a badge of honor all through my twenties. But my mother, my grandmother and all the aunties were 100% right! The penny finally dropped because staring back at me were sun spots and not those cute freckles but darker and larger spots on my nose and on my cheeks. I was panicked, I consulted the experts.
Know your skin!
Dr. Jessica Weiser, M.D. Dermotologist from NYDG in NYC says, “Asian or not Asian, we talk about the skin in 6 types. How you burn vs. how you tan––that is the Fitzpatrick scale of skin. Someone who has incredibly fair is type 1 (i.e., someone who has very fair skin and never tans) and from there it’s a gradient to type 6 skin (i.e., someone who always tans and never burns). Asian skin falls in that skin type - I have never seen a type 1 Asian - but a type 2 or 3 Asian should still protect themselves as if they have very fair skin. The key with Asian skin is that it’s very prone to pigmentation and sun spots so instead of getting typical fine freckles like an Irish person would, Asians get a more sun-damaged kind of freckling as they age. People sometimes refer to it as blotchy and it becomes this sort of patchy pigmentation. The issue with Asian skin is you don’t see this damage and then, all of a sudden, you hit a certain age and you start to see the cumulative sun damage from all you prior years in the sun. The hardest part is saying I need to protect now, and yes, prevention going forward is key. But some of what you need to look at is where you were 20 years ago because that is the sun you are seeing on your skin. The sun you are getting now is making it worse."
What can we do?
“What you need to be doing now is a combination of both prevention and reversal of some of the sun damage. It’s not true reversal in that you are decreasing your risk of free radical skin cancer, but yes, it can undo some of the pigmentation and sun spots. In order to prevent worsening, sun protection is your best bet. The idea of daily application is one thing, but the key is reapplying your sun protection every 2 hours. Even inside because the UVA (the pigment causing rays) can break through windows. So while you won’t get a sun burn inside since UVB is blocked by glass, you still need protection from UVA which is not blocked by glass. So even sitting inside, you want to be reapplying every 2 hours. You then need to check the label for water resistance or water proofing on your sunscreen bottle. Some of them are 40 minutes meaning if you are in the water or sweating, you need to be reapplying every 40 minutes. Most of them say 80 minutes but those you want to be reapply every 1.5-2 hours in order to really remain protected. The best advice would be sunscreen with proper reapplication and wearing a wide brimmed hat. Being in your own shade is key–– anything you can do for prevention is good!
Get educated on SPF!
Look for UVA and UVB protection with at least an SPF of 30. According to Dr. Weiser: “We are looking for mineral sun protection and the newest update on sun damage protocol shows we are seeing a lot of damage from the visible light spectrum, so not just UV, but also from some of the visible light. So now, a lot of the newer products are adding in things like iron oxide which has stronger protection against UVA which is the pigment causing UV rays and it gives you some protection against visible light. Also, it has this other wonderful benefit–– when you mix iron oxide with a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (the 2 common minerals in sunscreen), it makes them a little less white and chalky because they add a little bit of tint––so it’s much nicer! Physical sunscreen has mineral-active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and most dermatologists prefer a mineral base sunscreen. For example, our NYDG sunscreen chemical free SPF30 is a mineral zinc oxide based sunscreen and has 17.5% of zinc oxide. The key with zinc is that with some people it looks pasty and on some people it gives them a purplish hue. The way the zinc interacts with the skin is different so some people prefer not to use it. What we are finding now is that there is a type of iron oxide which is more recent and it allows for the zinc oxide molecules to absorb into and blend into the skin a little more nicely. So yes, we want you to be using a zinc or a titanium based sunscreen. Some of the other newer products have something called a PA and that is representative of how much of a pigment delay the product is causing. So compared to no sunscreen, PA can be rank from 1+ to 4+. That PA will give you a sense of how much more time you can spend in the sun without developing freckles or pigmentation. I am trying to encourage people who are prone to pigmentation to wear a PA ++++.”
For the complete guide on what sunscreens to buy––check out i-see’s favorite sunscreens here.
Dr. Weiser recommends using something to control that pigmentation. “Something with an antioxidant that is going to be preventative as well as vitamin C, glycolic acid and serums in the evening that have a little skin turnover or brightening agent is very helpful to put on before bed. The idea of an “after sun” is to keep your skin bright and fresh to turn over the cells.”
For the more sun damaged skin, there is good news––sunspots are treatable! “There was a time when very dark skin could not have laser treatments but now we understand how to treat those skin types without burning or damaging the skin cells with very specific devices. The idea is we can pull that excess pigmentation out without damaging your skin color. What it does is it pulls the excess pigmentation to the surface then gradually destroy it and then it shreds off. We tend to not treat pigment in the summer, but we encourage you to take as much prevention as possible and then come October to early May we do a lot more pigment reversal & reduction.
“A lot of sun care treatments are marketed for the more pale-skin people. African Americans, Latinos, South Asians might not get the same risk of skin cancer as white people, but when it shows up for us, it’s way more severe! We do have melanin that protects us but Asians know that looking healthy has never been about getting a tan. Its more internal therefore the food we eat plays a big part. Sun protective food is something we need to consider but, of course, you don’t replace internal care with a sun block even though that can be a holistic approach to your whole sun care regime. Food such as green tea, white tea, pomegranate, dark leafy green, herbs, spices with powerful antioxidant properties can make their way into your skin. The kind of food you would eat on Whole 30. Herbs are a power food––cilantro, parsley, ginger––are all good for you. Blueberries, cherries––fruits with the dark pigments help with skin health and skin sensitivity in the sun.” Chinese medicine believes pearl powder has huge benefits for internal and external brightening because it contains a number of amino acids and, with over 30 trace minerals, high calcium concentration, strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps support the body’s natural collagen production.