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On the days that aren’t warm and the sun is hiding— is it OK to skip sunscreen? What about on a cloudier, cooler day, or one where your time outside will be limited?
A trio of experts shared why sunscreen is always needed and cleared up common myths and questions about everyday use.
Applying sunscreen to sun-exposed areas daily It’s essential — not excessive.
“The sun’s UV rays are potent, and just 15 minutes outside is enough exposure to cause damage and potentially skin cancer long term,” says Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and board-certified and fellowship-trained Mohs Surgeon with Westlake Dermatology in Austin.
You don’t simply get exposed to the sun outside.
Dietert says cancers caused by sun exposure can be aggressive and fatal if left untreated. But prevention is the best medicine.
“Applying sunscreen to your face, neck, chest, ears, hands, and arms daily is recommended to prevent long-term damage from the sun,” Dietert says.
Erum N. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology, agrees, and recommends applying SPF each morning as part of your skincare routine.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends finding a sunscreen that is:
- SPF 30+
- broad spectrum, which protects against UVA and UVB rays
- water resistant
Dietert explains there are two main types of sunscreens: chemical, which filters UV light, and physical (mineral-based), which blocks UV light.
“[Mineral-based sunscreens] generally protect your skin from a broader spectrum of UV light,” Dietert says. “For this reason, finding a sunscreen with mineral ingredients is ideal.”
Dietert adds that these mineral-based sunscreens may be particularly helpful for people with acne-prone or sensitive skin.
“These are less likely to cause irritation and skin allergies,” Dietert says.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two common ingredients in mineral sunscreens. Dietert recommends people with acne-prone skin look for sunscreen with niacinamide and avoid oil-based ones that can exacerbate the condition.
Protection against skin cancer is a commonly cited reason for applying sunscreen daily — and for good reason.
But the review and dermatologists Anna Chacon, MD, and Ilyas, point to other benefits, including:
- delaying signs of aging, like wrinkles
- fading scars
- Preventing discoloration
- Protecting from blue light
Chacon, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, supports the review, saying sunscreen can also help delay signs of aging.
Ilyas notes that lately, people have become more interested in the blue light that emanates from electronics like tablets and iPhones.
“Although the effects of DNA damage on our cells is well documented, more than half of the spectrum of light emitted by the sun is visible light,” says Ilyas, who is also the CEO and Founder of AmberNoon.
The myth that people of color don’t need sunscreen is damaging.
The authors suggested that lack of education about the risks of sun damage in these populations was a reason.
Dietert agrees, advising everyone to apply sunscreen daily, regardless of skin tone.
“Lighter skin tones are at higher risk for skin cancer,” Dietert says. “However, with enough UV exposure, all skin types can develop skin cancer.”
Dietert adds that UV exposure can also lead to aging in all populations.
Sun exposure helps people get Vitamin D, which Chacon says is essential for bone formation.
But she says the pros of wearing sunscreen outweigh the cons. “Too much UV light can cause skin damage by burning the skin and eventually causing it to lose elasticity, leading to premature aging,” Chacon says.
If you’re someone who is concerned about Vitamin D due to an existing deficiency, there are options to supplement without putting your skin at risk.
After speaking with your doctor, you could take your pick of over-the-counter oral Vitamin D supplements. You could also increase your natural intake through food, like salmon and egg yolks.
For Melanated Skin
While there are tons of sunscreen options at varying price points, for folks with melanated skin, the unpleasant white cast that often comes with sunscreen may be a concern.
Brands like Supergoop are known for their lack of the dreaded white cast, as well as brands created by and for individuals with darker skin tones, like Black Girl Sunscreen.
What About Make-Up Products With SPF?
Some make-up has SPF, but Chacon warns it’s likely not enough protection. You may need to apply six to seven times the amount of a product to get the appropriate protection, which is more than most people use.
“I like to educate patients as viewing make-up with sunscreen more like “icing on the cake” and used more like an add-on than replacement,” Chacon says.
SPF is important, but experts say it’s best to approach sun protection through different layers of protection.
Dietert suggests wearing wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective or “UPF” clothing with a UPF of 50+.
But again, these measures are a layer and do not negate the need for sunscreen.
“Sunscreen is still important, even when wearing UPF clothing, to screen UV rays reflected off surfaces like water or concrete,” Dietert says.
In addition to re-applying sunscreen every two hours, the AAD also recommends:
- avoiding tanning beds
- seeking shade
- being particularly mindful between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m, when the sun’s rays are the strongest
It’s essential to apply sunscreen every day.
The sun’s rays can still damage the skin when it’s cloudy, and it does not discriminate based on skin tone. Research suggests that even sun exposure through a car window can up the risk for skin cancer.
Look for an SPF of 30+ and reapply every two hours if you are in the sun. Experts say a mineral-based sunscreen is ideal because it protects against a broader spectrum, and individuals with acne should avoid oil-based products.
Other layers of protection, such as UPF clothing, can also protect against sun damage, but they don’t negate the need to wear sunscreen every day.
If you’ve felt deterred by high price points or that pesky white cast in the past, don’t fret — there are tons of options (including some available at drugstores) that have the minerals and SPF that your skin needs to stay healthy.