For many of us, our first memory of sun protection is a parental figure smearing white goop across our noses, or maybe plopping an over-sized hat on our tiny heads. Having a parent to look out for your skin when you’re young is all well and good, but when we reach adulthood, it can be sadly common for sun protection to fall by the wayside. Even though there are more choices than ever when it comes to sunscreen, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to convincing the population that protection from the sun isn’t just for fair-skinned folk – it’s for everyone, and it’s important. There’s a lot more on the line than simply looking like a boiled lobster and feeling a bit sore for a few days.
And lest you think that you only need to smear on some sunscreen on the hottest, sunniest days of summer, think again – ultraviolet rays from the sun can break through even on cloudy days, and before you know it you’re nursing painful sunburns. The solution: Wear sunscreen every day, and make sure the coverage is extensive. If you think that sounds like overkill, just give us the length of this blog post to convince you, and we think that you may see the light (no pun intended) when it comes to using sunscreen daily.
Sunscreen: Necessary On All Days, No Excuses
It’s an equation that’s easy to understand, and most of us have suffered its consequences: too much exposure to the sun plus not enough skin coverage (clothes or sunscreen) equals sunburn. But that’s one of the misconceptions about sun protection: that you only need it if you’re sitting directly in the sun and not in the shade, or on overcast days. The reality is that if you have skin that’s exposed, there’s the possibility that you can get burned.
The American Academy of Dermatology notes that you should wear sunscreen “every day if you will be outside. The sun emits harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays year round. Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin.” They also add that even in the winter, snow can reflect the sun’s rays, so you ought to make sure that any part of your body that isn’t already bundled up in warm clothing should get some SPF. (The same goes for sand and water reflecting the sun, which makes it doubly important that you wear sunscreen if you’re going to the beach.)
Other than the lack of knowledge around using sunscreen on non-sunny days, there are a lot of common arguments and excuses that people use when they don’t want to commit to sun protection. They reject sunscreen because they’ve had experiences with it being too greasy; their skin is sensitive and they have had bad reactions to sunscreen products in the past; they dislike the white film sunscreen leaves on their skin or they don’t want to wear a lot of clothing because it’s hot outside. However, when you think about long-term consequences, these short-term inconveniences seem rather trivial. Is avoiding sunscreen because you don’t like the feel of it really worth the damage that your skin cells could be receiving? (On that point, there are many sunscreens on the market right now that aren’t as greasy as previous lotions; just do some research on the Internet and look at consumer reviews for a sunscreen that’s right for you.) Says dermatopathologist Dr. Wendy Roberts in a Q&A for Huffington Post: “You will regret not having worn sunscreen when you look at your skin compared to friends and family who have worn daily sunscreen 20 years from now.”
This leads us into our next important point:
Sunscreen Helps Prevent Skin Cancer
As mentioned earlier, the biggest risk isn’t just a few days of discomfort – it’s skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, over 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, and many of these cases could have been prevented with proper sun protection. This painful and sometimes deadly reality isn’t just restricted to people who spend too much time in tanning salons, either – it can happen to anyone who suffers from sunburn.
There are three known types of skin cancer that can result from sun damage: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. While the first two can result from many years of built-up sun exposure, it’s the third that’s the most serious, and unfortunately the easiest to develop. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that “the sun exposure pattern believed to result in melanoma is that of brief, intense exposure – a blistering sunburn – rather than years of tanning.” According to SCF, you’ve had even one serious sunburn in your life, you’re at a higher risk for developing melanoma – in fact, your chances of melanoma double if you’ve had five or more blistering sunburns.
The solution is to prevent the burns before they happen, and sunscreen is the most effective method of protection. The recommended amount of sunscreen to use is a “shot glass” sized portion, or the equivalent of two tablespoons, applied every two hours (more frequently if you’ve been sweating a lot or submerged in water). When it comes to the SPF number, “Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of the sun’s rays,” says the American Academy of Dermatology. “Higher number SPFs block slightly more of the sun’s rays but no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays.” This means it’s even more important to wear clothing that prevents exposure, including broad-brimmed hats and UV-protected sunglasses (your eyes can suffer sun damage as well!).
Lastly, it may sound simple, but be sure to look for shade when you’re outside. Take a break from the sun and sit under an umbrella on the beach, walk on the shaded side of the street, or seek refuge in the nearest building. The sun’s power is at its strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day, so as you head outside for the day, make a mental note of the time and plot out where you could find shade.
Proper Sun Protection
When it comes to sun protection, it’s best to take a lesson from your childhood self and make sunscreen a daily priority. Although the sun may feel nice on your skin no matter what time of year, harmful UV rays can do damage both superficial (prematurely aging your skin cells) and potentially deadly (melanoma and other skin cancers). The long-term care of your skin depends on your current sun protection regime, so remember what your parents told you and smear on some sunscreen at least thirty minutes before going outside, every day. This small habit may make a big difference in keeping your skin both healthy and youthful-looking for many years to come.