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Beautiful makeup starts with beautiful skin. Clean, clear and healthy should be your goal. This includes using sun protection.

In an eye-opening article on sunscreen usage in the May 2004 issue of Allure magazine, the American Cancer Society reports that the rate of malignant melanoma is rising faster than any other type of cancer. Some of this is due to the enlarging holes in the ozone layers at both poles, according to the World Meteorological Organization in an October, 2003, report.

It may not sound as glamourous as retinol, alpha hydroxy, or co-enzyme Q10, but sunscreen is the one thing that is proven to help protect your skin from damage. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wearing a broad-spectrum (filters UVA and UVB) product with a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 for all exposed skin, preferably year 'round.

Some other factors to consider: your proximity to the equator; pollution levels (smog doesn't filter out the most damaging rays, it magnifies them); and height above sea level. Ultra-violet rays can penetrate cloud cover, so you should still wear sunscreen on cloudy days.

I use a facial sunscreen in SPF 30 from the neck up on a daily basis and slather myself in cheap stuff everywhere else. If I'm going to the beach, I use SPF 40 from head to toe, several times a day (and sit under a giant black golf umbrella). I carry a parasol everywhere else. You can get beautiful ones at shops that import goods from China.

Does it work? That's my photo above. Most people place my age around 30. I'll be 44 later this year.

One thing I keep forgetting to do myself is carry a small bottle of 30 SPF and reapply on the back of my hands when I'm out. Because we wash our hands so often, sun protection is removed from that part of our bodies first.

For those allergic to sunlight or sunscreen, fabrics have been invented that are lightweight and offer high sun protection. A Google search will find several companies that make protective clothing from these fabrics.

The sun's rays also cause eye damage. Invest in a good pair of wrap-around or large dark grey or dark green sunglasses and wear them. Not only will you reduce your chance of developing cataracts, you will reduce squinting and the crow's feet that result from it.

I would also like to suggest to all readers with darker skin tones, that they, too, heed the warnings about the sun. Yes, your skin does contain more melanin than mine, but sun damage is a reality for all but the darkest complexions.

Please remember to instill good sun-sense in your children! Infants over the age of six months are able to wear sunscreen. The companies that make sun protection clothing also have a variety of covers available for carriages and strollers.

Sun damage is cumulative -- that burn at age 8 will show up at 38. Incidental exposure also adds up, so wear sunscreen even if you are going to be in the car or walking through the concrete canyons of a city.

For more information on protecting yourself visit www.skincancer.org

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