Freelance writer Cat Hufton talks about her early relationship with tanning, and why wearing sunscreen every day is now a vital part of her morning skin care regimen.

Looking Back at My Early Relationship With Sun Care

When I'm asked why I wear sunscreen every day, I always refer back to my teen years. Growing up in the '90s, having a bronzed glow was the look en vogue. You could blame it on the influence of cultural icons like Christina Aguilera and Paris Hilton, but whatever the reason, my friends and I wanted to look like we'd been on a month-long vacation in the sunshine, at all times.

Thanks to this trend, I had an enthusiastic relationship with fake tans. I couldn't get enough and wanted to look as tanned as possible. Soon though, tanning products started to irritate my eczema-prone skin. So, I switched to sunbed tanning instead. My parents hated it and warned me every day of the risk of melanoma and the long-term damage it was doing to my skin. But in all honesty, at 18 years old, skin cancer was the last thing on my mind.

That was true until a friend pointed out the white patches that had started to appear on my face. "You should be careful on those sunbeds," she said. "It's starting to make your skin patchy." I took a look in the mirror and was shocked to see she was right. Of course, the white patches she was talking about were the first signs of sun damage and hyperpigmentation.

Such an obvious physical change was all I needed to stop immediately. I couldn't believe how quickly my skin had been impacted. It scared me.

As I got older, my mum started to talk to me more about the importance of wearing sunscreen every day. She explained why she had worn it religiously for years in order to protect her skin from melanoma and premature aging. But as a carefree young person, I initially brushed it off. Aging wasn't a concern, and the thought of applying thick, greasy creams to my face wasn't at all appealing.

But over time, my mum's words started to sink in, and I thought more about the sun and what it might be silently doing to my skin. At the same time, the wider world seemed to be waking up to the impact of ultraviolet (UV) damage—not just in the summer when the sun is at its strongest, but in the winter, too, even when it's grey and cloudy. Sunscreen formulations began improving, with more lightweight and sensitive options available.

Wearing Sunscreen as an Adult

Woman with sunscreen on her face

By the time I'd reached my late twenties, using a daily sunscreen to prevent premature UV aging was recommended by everyone from Dermatologists to beauty editors. There were also more facial sunscreens available in lightweight textures, suited for a range of skin types. Sunscreen was now thought of as an enjoyable part of a regular beauty routine rather than a summertime chore.

Fast forward to the present day, and my skin care regimen is more important than ever. Wearing sunscreen every day remains at the heart of it. Friends and family often seem surprised that my advice for having great skin always starts with a great broad-spectrum sunscreen, rather than an expensive moisturizer or serum. But for me, it's a total non-negotiable that I know makes a visible difference to my skin.

Recognizing the Added Benefits of Daily Use

Premature aging isn't the only reason I wear sunscreen every day. I live in London, where pollution levels can be quite high—a known aggressor that can be very irritating for sensitive, eczema-prone skin like mine. That's why I opt for sunscreens like EltaMD's UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+, which contains ingredients like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, a form of vitamin C that can offer protection from skin-aging free radicals and pollutants. My daily sunscreen helps to defend my skin from hidden environmental nasties and keep my complexion hydrated with hyaluronic acid, a humectant that helps to retain moisture.

Instilling Sun-Safe Habits in My Children

I'm now the mum of two little boys, and it's hugely important to me to educate them on the importance of enjoying the sun safely. So far, it seems to be going well—my older son knows that applying sunscreen before he goes outside is essential, as is wearing a hat, taking time out in the shade, and wearing sunglasses when it's sunny. We carry the EltaMD UV Stick Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ around in our family bag so that I can quickly re-apply it to their faces, necks, and ears when we're out and about. Its gentle formula is also ideal for my son's and my eczema-prone skin.

As the kids get older, I also plan to start talking more about other elements of sun safety, including the reasons for regular re-application, and why they can still get sunburnt on a cloudy day.

Why I Wear Sunscreen: Life Lessons

The main lesson I've learned over the past 20 years is that a good-quality sunscreen should be an effortless yet essential part of daily life that keeps my skin healthy and glowing. Further, the sun should never be abused in the name of beauty. I'm happy to say that while fake tans still have an occasional place in my beauty routine, sunbeds and spending hours laying out in the sun are a long-distant memory.

Author

  • Catherine Hufton is a UK-based freelance journalist and writer who has worked for some of fashion's most iconic companies and written for the world's best known magazines and newspapers. Beginning her career at Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion over 12 years ago, she has created content for L'Oréal, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, The Telegraph and more.