Ray of Hope for Sun Lovers

Summer in the city, as the old song goes, is dirty and gritty.

The heat and smog can wreak havoc on your skin, and the combination of increased humidity and pollution often results in breakouts, clogged pores and increased oiliness.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about the best way to handle these problems. Many people believe exposure to the sun will help clear up acne and the use of protective products will make their skin oilier or result in clogged pores.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Unprotected sun exposure results in skin damage and premature aging. Even though acne may seem to disappear with sun exposure, the change is temporary and actually aggravates the problem.

Harsh cleansers, scrubs and alcohol-based toners also are not great solutions because they increase oiliness and break small "spider veins" on the nose and cheeks.

Fortunately, there are effective ways to avoid these problems or clear them up quickly if they've already reared their ugly little heads. For starters, it is essential to wear sun protection daily and to gently exfoliate the skin to avoid problems.

"It is important to protect the skin from pollution and sun damage by using creams with natural ingredients, antioxidants, and [ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B] sun protection," says Moscow-based dermatologist Dr. Olga Panova, director of the Center of Aesthetic Dermatology and Surgery.

Cosmetic companies have simplified skin protection by combining sunscreen and antioxidants in makeup bases and lightweight moisturizers.

"Many women don't realize that wearing foundation every day will actually protect their skin from environmental damage, such as the sun and pollution," says Elizabeth Susskind, vice president of Estee Lauder International for Russia, explains.

Many moisturizers also contain sunscreen and ingredients to counter the effects of environmental stress.

All Estee Lauder's recently introduced foundations contain an SPF, or sun protection factor, of 10 to 15, while Revlon's New Complexion makeup, L'Oreal's Feel Perfecte foundation and Clinique's City Block foundation all have SPFs of 15. (All the products listed here are available in Moscow.) If you are wearing only a lightweight moisturizer, L'Oreal's Plenitude, Nivea's Visage and Estee Lauder's Daywear all have SPFs of 15.

The SPF number indicates how much longer you can remain in the sun before your unprotected skin will begin to burn. If you get a sunburn after 15 minutes, an SPF of 15 would protect you for three hours and 45 minutes.

The most important thing you can do for your skin is use sunscreen, especially considering the increase in instances of skin cancer. Consider this: In 1930, melanoma, a very serious cancer, was so rare that only one in every 1,500 Americans could expect to get the disease in his or her lifetime. Today, cancer experts predict that one out of every 84 people in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma sometime in their lives.

Anyone who is going to spend time outdoors, especially during the summer months, needs to wear sunblock. Clouds and smog do not provide any protection from the damaging rays of the sun.

"The Academy of Dermatology has specified a minimum of SPF 15 for any protective product," a Toronto-based dermatologist, Dr. Sylvia Garnis-Jones says.

Dr. Tim Meade, director of the AMC, goes even further by recommending that everyone cover up with adequate clothing: long sleeves, hats, scarves, the works.

Failing that, Meade recommends the use of sunscreens -- the higher the SPF the better. He also cautions that products containing para-amino benzoic acid, commonly called PABA, pose health risks and should be avoided. Zinc oxide, favored by many athletes, also is not terrific as it tends to melt off the skin.

Meade warns parents to be especially vigilant about sun protection for their children because 80 percent of all sun damage occurs before adulthood, and infants should not use sunscreen or be exposed to strong sunlight.

Swimmers also are particularly susceptible to sunburn. Water-resistant sunscreen must be reapplied after 40 minutes in the water and waterproof sunscreen should be reapplied after 80 minutes.

Even perspiration can decrease the effectiveness of sunscreens, so those who work up a sweat -- even a moderate one -- should frequently reapply sunscreens.

Titanium dioxide is the ingredient you should look for on the label of a good sun protection product. It blocks both UVA and UVB sun rays and is available in many formulations and at many different prices. Estee Lauder, Clinique, Clarins, Lancome and Shisedo all produce a full line of sunscreens.

Banana Boat makes a full line of effective and inexpensive sunscreens. Their Baby Block SPF 50 is waterproof and non-irritating. Medical evidence to the contrary, many people still consider a tan to be chic and healthy looking. As there is no such thing as a "healthy" tan, sunless tanning products are the next best option. "Tanning pills" are not recommended, as they may pose serious health risks.

The best sunless tanning formulations come in different shades for different skin tones. These products should be applied to freshly exfoliated skin for the best results, and they must be reapplied every few days to maintain the effect.

All the major cosmetic companies offer bronzing powders and creams for those who will settle for just a little no-risk glow.

So enjoy the sunny summer weather, but protect your skin.

The American Medical Center is located at 2nd Tverskoy-Yamskoy Pereulok 10. Tel: 956-3366. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Center for Aesthetic Dermatology and Surgery, Ulitsa Fotiyevoi 12, building 2. Tel: 930-9178/9188. Nearest metro: Leninsky Prospekt. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.