A new study recently confirmed what doctors have long thought to be true: Daily application of sunscreen may slow the signs of aging.
Australian researchers gathered 900 white people, most of whom had fair skin, burned in the sun, and used sunscreen "some of the time," according to The New York Times. Half of the subjects were told to slather on sunscreen diligently, while the other half kept up their regular sunblock practices.
After four and a half years, those who used the sunscreen every day had "noticeably" smoother and more resilient skin than those who didn't.
"This is one of those beauty tips that's often quoted, but for the first time, we can back it with science: Protecting yourself from skin cancer by using sunscreen regularly has the added bonus of keeping you looking younger," says lead study author and professor Adele Green.
The overall study was first and foremost a skin cancer prevention study, Green told SHAPE, which is why the results can't necessarily be generalized to darker-skinned people (generally speaking, lighter-skinned people are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer), but the findings do suggest that everyone can benefit from applying sunscreen, even if you don't start until later in life.
"We tested both men and women up to 55, and the benefits were seen in all except those who started with severely sun-damaged skin," she says.
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If knowing that prolonged exposure to UV light causes cancer doesn't motivate people to start wearing sunscreen, perhaps vanity will, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist who practices in Manhattan. "We know that UV light affects skin of all colors and can lead to premature aging in all skin tones. Hopefully, vanity will motivate people to wear sunscreen to prevent wrinkling."
We agree—if you're not wearing sunscreen, you should be! The crucial thing to remember is to apply thickly and comprehensively, Green says. Yes, that means when you get out of the pool, you have to dry off and reapply another layer.
Dr. Zeichner, who isn't associated with the study, says that one coat of sunscreen isn't enough. "Fifteen minutes of sun exposure adds up," he says. "You should reapply sunscreen every two hours, whenever you get out of the water from swimming, or if you're sweating."
When looking for a sunscreen, try to select a broad-spectrum option with both UVA and UVB protection (UVB rays primarily cause sunburn; UVA is mostly responsible for cancers), an SPF of at least 15, and either zinc oxide, avobenzone, or ecamsulte, Dr. Zeichner recommends. Use 1 ounce (that's a shot glass full) of sunscreen to cover your entire body, with at least a nickel-sized amount of that on your face, he adds.
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And if you must go out in the sun for long periods of time, try to seek shade, especially when the sun is at its hottest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and use clothing as a cover. "Australia has long had a very successful 'Slip, Slop, Slap campaign,'" Green says. "Slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat."
But skip the beta-carotene supplements. According to the study, they have no effect on aging.
Will this research encourage you to wear more sunscreen? Let us know in the comments below, and then check out our 2013 SHAPE Sun Awards—from sticks to sprays, tints to translucents, we've got the best sunscreen and SPFs for your lifestyle.