The new rules of sun safety

IstockphotoIstockphotoBy Ilana Blitzer

You've been following the rules when it comes to sunscreen for how long now? At this point, you're a diligent daily sunscreen wearer, and you know to reapply every few hours when you're at the beach or pool. (Sorry, no magical stay-all-day sunscreen on the market yet!) But, hey, it's 2011-some of the old thinking no longer applies. So update your sun-safety habits, and keep your skin healthy long-term with these thoroughly modern strategies.

Old rule: Apply a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen with SPF 15 a half-hour before leaving the house.
New rule: Sunscreen alone is not enough: Wear an SPF 15 (at least) plus an antioxidant-enriched moisturizer.

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"It's no longer just about UV damage," says Fredric Brandt, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and Miami. "The sun also generates free radicals that break down your collagen and elastin fibers." Anti-oxidants in ingredients like soy, green tea, and vitamin C prevent free radicals from attacking, and they boost your protection level, too. Use a souped-up sunscreen that contains the powerful antioxidant idebenone. Or make sure your daily moisturizer has antioxidants in it so you're covered from the start, then apply sunscreen as usual.

If you're going to the beach, go higher than SPF 15, Dr. Brandt says. Most people don't apply enough, so they may end up getting a protection level of 7 out of their 15. But if you're slathering on 70? You'll probably get at least a 30, so you're good.

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Old rule: Throw on a T-shirt or cover-up when you're in direct sunlight.
New rule: If you're not into sun-protective clothing, wear dark colors and tightly woven fabrics at peak hours.

You can't get away with any ol' thing (donning a breezy sarong is like wearing nothing at all). Fabrics have UPF ratings that measure their level of UV protection; a 30 is necessary to be awarded the Skin Cancer Foundation's Seal of Recommendation. (FYI: A plain white tee comes in under 10.) If you're up for a quick extra step, check out SunGuard Sun Protection, a clear dye you can add to your laundry for an immediate UPF 30 that will last through 20 washings.

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Old rule: Use a teaspoon of sunscreen for your face, a shot-glass-worth for your body.
New rule: Layer on your protection to make sure you're covered.

Because nobody actually measures out their dose, here's how to stay safe. First, err on the side of over-applying. (It can't hurt!) Pay attention to commonly missed spots like your neck, chest, and the backs of your hands, particularly when you're driving. "Most people don't realize that the neck and the V of the chest are directly exposed to sunlight due to the angle of the windshield, which offers no protection from UVA rays," says Alysa Herman, MD, a Miami dermatologist specializing in skin cancer treatment. "The backs of hands also get a lot of damage from holding the steering wheel."

A nonstick spray-on sunscreen is an easy way to cover all those spots without getting your hands tacky. To max out your face coverage, apply a sunscreen lotion and follow up by dusting on a powder-based mineral blocker. It has the added benefit of de-slicking post-sunscreen shine. A skin-win!

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Old rule: A little sun is healthy-20 minutes three times a week allows your body to produce vitamin D.
New rule: It's not smart to go out-of-doors unprotected.

Here's the deal: Your body does need vitamin D to keep bones healthy and support your immune system, but supplements are the safest way to get your dose of D-without the scary side effects of sun exposure. "Even a little bit of sun causes cellular damage that can lead to aging and cancer," says Francesca Fusco, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. Have your doctor check your D level; if it's low, discuss taking a daily supplement containing 400 to 1,000 IU.

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Old rule: Never, ever use tanning beds.
New rule: Still, never, ever use tanning beds.

Using a tanning bed increases your risk for melanoma by up to 75%, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. And 90 percent of the signs of aging (wrinkles, brown spots) are caused by UV radiation, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports. (The tan fades; its skin-damaging effects don't.)

But there's one tan that is safe: the kind you slather on. According to a study in Archives of Dermatology, when women are taught to use self-tanners, they spend less time in the sun because they aren't longing to bake for the tan. Try one that gives a gradual tint and helps fade existing sun spots. Now that's a healthy glow!