When you’re sitting at a picnic table with a ketchup-drenched burger and icy beer in your hand, reveling in the sun’s heavenly gaze upon your back, it’s easy to forget about that one little thing you’ve carried with you since birth: your skin—which is probably getting burned. Perhaps you forgot to put on sunscreen, or maybe you applied that from-the-depths-of-the-bathroom-cabinet sunblock that was around when you won the 6th grade spelling bee. Or perhaps you’ve just shunned it entirely, deeming it "too greasy, and thick, and smelly" and other blah blah blah-related BS. Well, you’ll stop now. Because thanks to a conversation with one of New York’s top dermatologists—Dr. Debra Jaliman—it’s clear that how you treat your skin today, on this gorgeous summer day, dictates how your skin will look for the rest of your life. As the author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist, Dr. Jaliman shares some shocking truths with us about sunscreen, aging, moles, and how Botox can save your iife.
Your book has 12 chapters devoted to sunblock.
Yes, because it’s the least-expensive way to really prevent sun damage. So many times people come here and they want to spend a lot of money correcting things that they think are aging changes in their skin when, in fact, they’re sun damage. People say “I have these brown spots, these wrinkles, these age spots, these liver spots,” but they’re actually just caused by the sun. People come and do fillers, they do botox, and then I say, “Let me tell you about sunscreen” and they say, “No, no, no, I’m not interested.” And then I try to explain to them that they’re going to spend thousands of dollars on all these treatments and laser procedures, but if you don’t use a good sunscreen—one that’s right for your skin with the right chemicals and is not expired!—then all that money is really wasted.
I was so surprised to read in your book that wrinkles aren’t even a natural symptom of aging—they’re merely just from exposure to the sun.
People look at my skin and think that because I’m a dermatologist, I’ve had 500 procedures and 500 things put in my face—I don’t. But it’s just that I am obsessed with using the right sunscreen every single day. I’ve never had wrinkles and I’m 56 and it’s because from the time I got interested in dermatology, which was when I was in my teens, I became interested in sunscreen. I was always wearing some form of sunscreen all of those years.
So what do you think are some of the cheapest, most effective sunscreens that you can buy at any drugstore?
One of the really good ones I’ve used is Vanicream. I’m a big fan of zinc-based, physical sunscreens because no matter what your skin type is, you’re not going to get a reaction from them. Let’s say you have rosacea, eczema, sensitive skin; you’re not going to get the reaction that you would from a chemical-based sunscreen.
What’s the difference between a physical and chemical sunscreen?
The ingredients in physical sunscreens physically block your skin from the sun, like a t-shirt. With chemical sunscreens, there’s a chemical reaction that inactivates the sun. I like the physical ones more because they’re broad spectrum, whereas the chemical ones are less. If you’re acne-prone, pick up a non-comedogenic sunscreen, which doesn’t block pores. Neutrogena has a very nice physical one.
So what about you? Do you try to avoid the sun, always sit under an umbrella?
I would be a liar if I told you I was huddled under the sun. I’m very active; my boyfriend has a boat so we’re on the boat all the time and I’m a very active person in the sun. I think that if you tell people to be a recluse and stay away from summer, it would be unrealistic. So the better approach is to take advantage of all the great technology we have; for example, there are hats with SPF 30 in the fabric, I always wear a UV 400-blocking sunblock, and a lipbalm with SPF in it. You must think it takes hours for me to get ready but it really doesn’t; once you get into the habit of it it takes two minutes.
What do you think of these tinted, SPF moisturizers that are on the market? I love them. For a lot of people they don’t want to wear makeup in the summer, and that tinted moisturizer gives you the illusion of having color but you don’t, so you have the great look of a glow.
What is the most neglected area for sunscreen?
There’s many. The ears. The nose—even when you apply it, it gets wiped off often. The Achilles tendon, the soles of the feet, the tops of their feet.
Never would have guessed the Achilles tendon. I have noticed the upper chest area is so easily burned.
That’s because there is no fat there; the skin is sitting right on the bone and it’s so thin.
What about moles? Can you easily spot a harmful mole?
Yes. I’ve had so much experience with them and always such an interest in them. I figured out early on as a dermatologist that there aren’t that many ways to save someones life. One is to spot early Lyme disease and the other is to maybe spot an early allergic reaction that could become life-threatening, but the top way is to spot melanoma, since melanoma left untreated can become deadly pretty quickly. It doesn’t take a long time.
Does everyone that comes in get a mole check?
Nearly everyone. I fight with people over getting these mole checks because they just save lives. But believe it or not—Botox saves more lives than anything else, because with Botox, people are here every three or four months, getting checked.
I was shocked to read in your book that UV rays even penetrate glass.
Oh yeah – when you’re sitting in your car, in the office, even walking around on a cloudy day—that’s when people really get into trouble. And a lot of times when people come here, I can tell whether they are the driver or passenger of their car because one side will have more sun damage than the other.
Really? Just by looking at them?
Same thing with lime juice; I can tell if someone was sitting in the sun drinking or eating something with lots of lime in it—they’ll come in with blistering sun burns just on their hands from squeezing the limes. Same with bergamot, an ingredient sometimes found in perfumes—people will have little dots on their neck and I can tell it’s from spritzing the perfume. I swear, dermatologists are detectives.