Spending the last two weeks in Japan reminded me again just how seriously so many there take sun protection — it’s practically a national obsession and an art form. Of course, my geisha friends have perhaps the best advantage of all, because their white makeup (called oshiroi) covers their face and neck completely.
“I’ve also learned that there are many more ways to avoid the incremental damage that comes from over-exposure to the sun.”
Geisha began wearing this porcelain layer of makeup to better illuminate their faces as they performed by candlelight, but it had the added benefit of protecting the skin from the sun and environmental pollutants. You could call it the original sunscreen, especially since it is made almost entirely of zinc and titanium dioxide. (It also served as the main inspiration for our new suncreen!)
Even though oshiroi isn’t a practical approach for most of us, applying sun protection daily and thoroughly (including the ears, neck, décolleté, hands, etc.) is a critical part of blocking the UVA and UVB rays that cause premature aging. (It’s scary but true: just one sunburn may double the chance of developing melanoma later in life).
I’ve also learned that there are many more ways to avoid the incremental damage that comes from over-exposure to the sun. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Parasols, a signature accessory for geisha, are ubiquitous across Japan in the summertime, carried by both men and women seeking reprieve from the heat. This has yet to catch on in the US, but keeping a collapsable umbrella can come in handy if watching your child’s baseball game, strolling an outdoor mall or other prolonged outings.
- A wide-brimmed hat that blocks the entire face from the sun is essential.
- If you typically wear sunglasses with narrow lenses, consider switching to larger ones during the summer months to further protect the delicate skin around the eyes. It is even possible to sunburn your eyes, especially when around water that reflects and intensifies the sun’s rays (photokeratitis). Look for sunglasses with UV protection, usually listed on the lenses.
- Walk on the shady side of the street whenever possible (one of my favorite beauty tips of all time!)
- Many women in Japan attach fabric sleeves to their bicycle handlebars to cover their hands as they ride.
- Some also wear lightweight gloves that stretch almost to their shoulders, which turns even a sleeveless shift dress into a sort of night-at-the-opera-like level of chic. Shorter gloves are often worn for driving.
- Lightweight clothing can be comfortable, but if you can see through the fabric when you hold it up to the light, it is not going to block the sun, so be sure to apply sunscreen on your arms and legs as well.
- A sheer scarf can be more than a fashion statement, when layered it helps protect the back of the neck (where even the most diligent sunscreen lovers often miss).
- This may seem far-fetched, but it is practical: If you’re looking to buy a new car, consider getting tinted windows, which can block more than four times the amount of UVA rays.
What are your secrets for protecting yourself from the sun??