“A whole article on why you need to wear sunscreen?” you’re thinking. “Is that really necessary? After all, isn’t the answer just, “because you’ll burn, which can damage your skin?”
Hey, listen – we get it. You’re right! That is effectively the main reason everyone should slather on the sunscreen before heading out into the sun.
But hold up; it doesn’t stop there. It turns out that acute and chronic sun exposure can actually put you at risk for a whole host of potential problems ranging from dry, flaky skin (a mild annoyance at best) to potentially fatal cancers.
Let’s explore this important topic together.
UNDERSTANDING SUN DAMAGE
How long does it take to experience sun exposure damage when you go outside without sunscreen? Can you experience damage when it’s raining, on a cloudy day, in the winter, or when you’re in the shade?
You might be surprised to learn that the average person answers these questions incorrectly. Old wives’ tales suggest you cannot be sunburned if you’re in the shade, if you’re wearing clothes, or if the sun isn’t visible, but nothing could be further from the truth. The sun can – and will – burn you any time of year, during nearly any weather, especially if you’re particularly fair.
Ultimately, any time you spend more than 15 minutes in the sun, you should apply at least SPF 30 for protection. For particularly hot days, or when the UV index is high, aim for a higher SPF like 50 or 60 – and reapply often. On the hottest of days, you can and will burn in just 10 minutes or less.
SUNSCREEN KEEPS SUNSHINE TIME HEALTHY
“Is the sun really that dangerous? Maybe we should all just avoid the sun all of the time…”
Wait! Before you give up your beach bunny ways and gorgeous (lightly) tanned skin, know this: some sunshine is healthy.
The human body requires sun exposure to produce Vitamin D. It also alters or boosts several other body processes, helping us create energy and maintain a cheery, sunny disposition (yes, pun intended).
But that doesn’t mean all sun exposure is good. Too much of a good thing can quickly turn the “thing” into toxic poison – in this case, UVA and UVB rays. By wearing a light SPF 30 sunscreen, you screen out most of the harm while still letting some of the sun’s powerful rays in to provide all of those important health benefits.
You shouldn’t, however, slather on sunscreen once and just run out the door. Even with sunscreen on, you still need to be careful to check the UV index and limit time in the sun during peak index highs (between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM).
SUNSCREEN IS NECESSARY FOR ALL AGES
Kids run around outside in the sun all day. Does that mean they’re naturally resilient to sun damage or more easily able to recover from it? Similarly, when someone is older, is it time to throw caution to the wind and enjoy a bit of beautiful weather?
No – in both cases.
Age does NOT make you more resistant to the sun. Whether older or younger, newborn or mature, human skin still experiences damage after only minimum exposure, especially without sunscreen. In fact, seniors and infants/toddlers are actually more likely to experience problems because soft, delicate skin allows more UVA and UVB rays to penetrate further into the tissue below.
And here’s something else – starting kids on good habits early is just smart. Sure, they might be chomping at the bit to go run around on the sand, but taking those short few seconds to slather on the sunscreen tells them you value their health and their long-term wellness. Use the opportunity to educate kids on sun safety at the same time for extra effect.
And as for the idea that seniors don’t need to care about sun damage? Even if you’re 90, you can still experience harmful melanomas. Stick with the good stuff for life.
SUNBURNS AREN’T THE ONLY RISK
Think a bad sunburn is the only reason you need to protect yourself from the sun?
Too much sun exposure over time can lead to unsightly melasma. You may know them as liver spots, sunspots, or even just large freckles, but in this case, a rose by any other name is not sweet – it’s downright frustrating instead.
Melasma spots are often extremely difficult to cover with anything but an intensely heavy full-coverage foundation. Worse yet, they tend to present in very obvious areas, like the forehead, hands, forearms, or face – areas that people naturally look to when they first glance at you. When they form along fine lines and wrinkles, they can highlight these problem areas and make them appear more obvious.
Treatment options do exist for melasma. Lightening creams, bleaching agents, and chemical peels can help revitalize, restore and balance skin tone. But prevention is worth a pound of cure, here, because research proves that dark spots develop faster in the presence of UVA/UVB rays.
Yep, you guessed it – another reason to always wear sunscreen.
THE SUN AGGRAVATES THESE CONDITIONS
Blotchy redness, rosacea, and spider veins – while they may not be as common as fine lines and wrinkles, nearly everyone experiences at least one of these concerns as they age.
If you happen to be of Scottish or Irish descent, you might find you experience all three at the same time well before the age of 40!
The bad news: too much sun, and especially sunburns, aggravates these conditions and can bring them to a fever pitch. Some people are so sensitive that just a few minutes outside leads to an increase in symptoms.
The good news: SPF 60, and maybe a swanky, wide-brimmed hat, can help you block out UVA and UVB rays without sacrificing time at the beach. Because topical solutions can sometimes be irritating to patients with these conditions, you should aim for a formula earmarked for sensitive skin. Try sunscreen for babies!
These reasons are really just the beginning. Wearing sunscreen can also help you retain your youthful appearance, prevent fine lines and wrinkles, or even ensure even application of makeup due to improved hydration (no more flaking due to overly dry, burned skin!). Make the commitment – skin cancer and sunburns are no joke.