In recent years we’ve become much more diligent when it comes to applying sunscreen. We cover the feet, make sure we don’t forget the ears, and even apply a UV spray to our scalp. However, there’s one important—many dermatologists would say the most important—spot we’re missing: the eyes. One reason may be because most sunscreen labels warn us to avoid the eye area. So what’s the answer to providing protection? We sought out the help of experts to protect our most prized asset.
Under the Eyes
Applying too close to the eyes can be painful, especially when sweat causes sunscreen to travel, but the skin around the eye is actually the thinnest on the body (only about 0.5mm thick). “It also happens to be a common site for non-melanoma, sun-induced skin cancers, like basal cell carcinomas,” says dermatologist Dr. Fayne L. Frey MD. “Although the concave areas of the corners of the eyes (the inner canthi) may seem protected from direct sun exposure, light that reflects off the brow bone and other orbital bones, ultimately hit the inner acanthi, which may explain the propensity for skin cancer formation in these areas.” Free radicals generated from sun exposure also break down elastin and collagen, causing wrinkles around and underneath the eyes.
Since many formulas contain fragrances that irritate the eyes, Dr. Frey suggests applying a fragrance-free sunscreen stick or balm around the eyes that are formulated with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. (Find your fit at Fryface.com, a product selector with almost every SPF product out there). “[Balms] have a high wax content which may prevent the sunscreen from spreading into the eyes with sweating or increased physical activity.” Another great option is Shiseido Sun Protection Eye Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 34 Sunscreen ($35.50, sephora.com), because it has both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, a physical sunscreen that works immediately after application.
“The eyelids are the thinnest skin on your body, making them more susceptible to sensitivity,” says Dr. Howard Murad. “The eyelids also lack sebaceous glands that contain lipids like on the rest of your face. These lipids help protect the skin from environmental damage and without them, it makes it easier to get sunburns on that area.”
“[One major problem is that] people do not apply sunscreen to their eyelids and then fall asleep in sunlight,” says Michael J. Russ, the author of Sun Care Decoded: Answers to Questions You Didn’t Know to Ask. We’re guilty of this every time we step in the sun, because our go-to sunscreens warn us against this application. “The burning in your eyes [when you do apply] is the result of the chemical reaction popular chemical sunscreen brands use to absorb UV light in the skin,” says Russ. “This process involves the sunscreen chemicals generating heat that in turn absorbs the sun’s heat energy.”
To get protection without the burn, steer clear of chemical versions with a 100 percent natural alternative, like MelanSol 100% Natural Sunscreen ($24.99, puresunscreen.com). The antioxidant formula protects skin cells from being damaged by free radicals, preventing wrinkles and dark spots. Murad Essential-C Eye Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 15 ($69, murad.com) offers two benefits: hydrating and hiding fine lines while protecting against UV rays.
“Having an office in Miami, daily I will see patients that have damaged their eyes due to not wearing sunglasses,” says Dr. Matthew Chrycy. “Sunglasses are the number one best way to help prevent eye damage and can greatly reduce your risk of eye disease. To determine the best option of sunglasses is based on current damage and the daily amount of time spend in the sun. Minimally UVA/UBA protection is needed to actually protect the eyes. If there is damage present such as corneal inflammation, pinguecula or pterygium, a polarized sunglasses is necessary.” For a wide variety of UV filtered sunglasses, check out Mason Eyewear for fashionable options.
“Buying a pair of sunglasses that don’t have UVA/UVB protection will become more harmful for the eyes,” says Dr. Chrycy. “The reason is that the light will actually reflect off the lens, intensifying the solar damage to the cornea and retina.”
Dr. Stephen Cohen, O.D., in Scottsdale Arizona adds two more essentials for eye protection: “A hat with a brim, and for contact lens-wearers, ask your eye care doctor about UV blocking contact lenses such as ACUVUE OASYS, which has the highest level of UV blocking in a contact lens, for added protection.”
Next time you sit on the beach taking in the view of the rolling waves, don’t take your eyes for granted. Apply protection to the under eyes, lids, and of course, throw on the shades.