There are many things in the environment that our skin needs to be protected from, ranging from pollution and smog to dirt and bacteria. But the most important thing your skin needs protection from may surprise you: the sun.
Sure, you’ve heard about the importance of putting on sunscreen when you’re at the beach in the summer, but exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet, or UV, rays can be harmful all year long, even if it’s cloudy or cold out. And sun exposure doesn’t just cause sunburn, it can darken pigmentation, lead to premature signs of aging, and cause skin cancer.
Learn more about wearing sunscreen!
Understanding UV Rays
UVA rays are present throughout the day and penetrate past the skin’s epidermis and into its dermis layer. These rays are what make our skin produce melanin (aka what makes us tan) but they also contribute to skin cancer and cause fine lines and wrinkles. This is because UVA rays damage collagen in the dermis layer, and collagen is what makes our skin plump and youthful.
UVB rays, which are strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM in the U.S., only reach the epidermis. But they damage the surface of our skin, cause sunburn, and play a role in the development of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the U.S. — in the last 30 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are a result of UV radiation from the sun.
Skin cancer is a result of uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. This growth begins when UV radiation causes damage to the DNA within our skin cells.
The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. While all three are serious and need to be treated, melanoma can be the most deadly if it’s not caught early.
All About Sunscreen
Properly protecting your skin from the sun is crucial. Sun protection products — especially a great facial sunscreen — should be part of your daily routine, no matter where you live and what the weather is.
How to Protect Yourself
You should limit your sun exposure, and when you are outside, try to wear a hat and cover as much skin as possible. Of course, when it’s hot and sticky out the last thing you want to do is cover up, so using a broad spectrum sunscreen is the best way to combat UV rays. Even if you don’t think you’ll be in the sun, UV rays can impact your skin through glass, cloud coverage, and even your clothing, so wearing sunscreen every day is very important.
What is SPF?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it’s the measure of how long a product will protect you from UVB rays. A broad-spectrum sunscreen includes ingredients that protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
Interestingly, a higher SPF number does not necessarily mean your skin will be more protected. While there are products available ranging from SPF 7 to SPF 70, it’s sufficient to use a product that is SPF 15 or SPF 30 — as long as you apply liberally and reapply. In fact, most skin care professionals recommend reapplying every two hours, regardless of the SPF level and especially when you’re swimming and sweating.
The key to using sunscreen, no matter the SPF, is to apply carefully, and reapply frequently. A few important tips:
- When purchasing a sunscreen, choose a broad-spectrum product to ensure that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are two key ingredients to look for in sunscreen products.
- For face sunscreens, choose a product that is non-comedogenic to prevent clogged pores.
- Sunscreen should be applied approximately 30 minutes before being in the sun.
- Reapply frequently through the day, especially after contact with water or exercising.