Sunscreen: What Everyone Needs to Know

As we head into summer, many people are looking forward to sunny beach days, afternoon barbeques, and relaxing by the pool. Since most of us spent summer 2020 cooped up inside, we’re all excited to get out and enjoy the outdoors.

After many grueling months of dealing with COVID-19, your mind is probably overwhelmed by all the preventative measures we take to avoid the virus. However, you shouldn’t neglect another important safety measure: sunscreen.

The sun is the source of all life, and it’s essential to our mental and physical health. The sun keeps our vitamin D levels up and plays a central role in regulating our sleep patterns via our circadian rhythm. Sunshine can also boost your mood. However, you can get too much of a good thing, and this is certainly true of the sun!

You already know that too much sun exposure can cause skin cancer. It can also damage your skin, causing premature aging, sun spots, and dryness. Extreme sunburn is not just painful – it can cause blisters and long-term damage to your skin. And since your skin is your largest organ, protecting it is essential for your overall health and wellbeing.

Here are a few tips for being sun-safe this summer.

Do I really need sunscreen?

Yes. No matter who you are and what your lifestyle is like, you need sunscreen. Even if you never burn, or have a dark complexion, or don’t spend a lot of time outdoors, you should be applying your sunscreen every day.

Sunscreen works by preventing the sun’s ultraviolet rays – namely UVA and UVB rays – from damaging your skin. These rays are responsible for sunburn. They can also cause skin cancer, pigmentation, wrinkles, and dry skin, as well as a range of other skin conditions.

Since we’re all prone to the above issues, we all need to wear sunscreen on a daily basis.

Do I need to wear sunscreen if I have a darker complexion?

A common myth is that people with a darker complexion don’t need sunscreen. As a result of this myth, there’s something called the “sunscreen gap,” where people with darker skin tones are less likely to use or be prescribed sunscreen than people with lighter skin tones.

While skin cancer is less prevalent in people with darker complexions, it can happen, and when it does, it tends to be diagnosed at a later stage. Because of these widespread myths, individuals with darker skin tones are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage melanoma and more likely to die from melanoma.

In addition to skin cancer, sun exposure can also cause premature wrinkles, sun spots, and dry skin in people of all complexions. So, although someone with a darker complexion might not burn as easily as someone with a lighter complexion, everyone should take steps to prevent sun damage.

Do I need to wear sunscreen if I’m indoors all day?

What if you’re not going outside that much? Even if you’ll be stuck inside the office all summer, it’s important to apply and reapply sunscreen.

Many skin care experts advise everyone to wear sunscreen, even when they’re inside all day. UVA rays can actually penetrate through windows, which can lead to skin cancer and premature aging.

Of course, your chances of sun damage decrease significantly when you’re indoors – but that’s no reason to skip the SPF.

Which sunscreen should I choose?

If you head into any drug store or beauty store, you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the number of sunscreens available. Not sure which sunscreen to use? Here’s a quick breakdown of your options.

Pro tip: Stock up on sunscreen in winter, when it’s more affordable. They often go on sale in the fall, so you might be able to get a few at a good discount.

Which SPF should I use?

You should opt for an SPF of at least 30, preferably more. Products with a higher SPF tend to be stickier, so you might be tempted to go for a lower SPF – but don’t! If you don’t like the sticky texture of lotion, opt for a spray-on, powder, or gel variety.

If you’re in the sun a lot, go for SPF 50 or higher. The available research shows that SPF 100 is far better than SPF 50 when it comes to protecting your skin against sun damage and burns.

Mineral or chemical?

In general, you get two kinds of sunscreen: mineral (also called physical) and chemical. Technically, all matter is made up of chemicals, including the healthy stuff in your sunscreens, so we’re moving towards calling them organic and inorganic.

Inorganic sunscreens, also known as mineral or physical sunscreens, contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These form a barrier on top of the skin to deflect UVA and UVB rays. Some research suggests they actually soak up the UV rays so that they can’t harm the skin. Most inorganic sunscreens leave a white sheen behind.

Organic sunscreens, also known as chemical sunscreens, are absorbed into the skin instead of sitting on top. They cause a chemical reaction that converts UV rays into heat so that your skin won’t get damaged.

Both kinds of sunscreen work. However, if you find that one kind is making your skin itch, opt for the other kind.

Fun fact: “sunscreen” and “sunblock” are often used interchangeably, but sunscreen tends to refer to organic sun protection while sunblock refers to inorganic sun protection. With that said, even industry experts use both terms to refer to the same thing.

Lotion, spray, gel, or powder?

Sunscreens come in so many different varieties nowadays. You get SPF in the form of regular lotions and spray-on liquids (which are great for full-body applications and ideal for wriggling kids). Gel products tend to be ideal for the face, as is brush-on powder SPF.

All of the above are fine, so you should opt for what feels better for you. If you find it easier to use a spray-on sunscreen, for example, choose that – the easier and nicer it feels, the more likely you are to use and reapply it.

And on this topic, you’ll also find that there are a lot of SPF-rich lip balms. It’s a very good idea to use these regularly to prevent dry and sun-damaged lips.

Other considerations for sunscreen

Nowadays, you can find sunscreens that are specifically formulated for different skin types. You might opt for a cheaper, drugstore-variety sunscreen for your body, and a special one for your face. You’ll find sunscreen for oily skin, dry skin, acne-prone skin, and sensitive skin.

Most sunscreens have a white-ish sheen that doesn’t totally absorb into the face, so you can also be on the lookout for those that dry on clear!

Top tips for using sunscreen

Buying a top-quality sunscreen is important – but in order for it to work its magic, you need to use it properly.

Stick to the following tips for using sunscreen:

  • You should reapply sunscreen every few hours. If you’re outside, reapply it at least every two hours. Inside, you can probably get away with reapplying it less often. Also, even waterproof sunscreen should be reapplied after you swim.
  • Some face creams and makeup have an SPF. While this can be helpful for added protection, you shouldn’t neglect your sunscreen.
  • Although you’d associate sunscreen with summer, it’s important to use sunscreen in winter too – even on overcast, dark days. The sun’s UV rays are constantly working, even when it’s chilly.
  • Layer your sunscreen properly! Organic (chemical) sunscreens should be put on first, underneath your moisturizer. Inorganic (physical/mineral) sunscreens should be put on after your moisturizer.
  • Use a reminder. If you forget to use and reapply your sunscreen, keep your sunscreen in a place where you’ll see it, like on your desk or by your toothbrush. You could also set an alarm on your phone to remind you to reapply your sunscreen regularly.
  • If you have highly sensitive skin, or if you’re still burning despite using a high-SPF product, speak to your GP or dermatologist.

How else can I prevent sun damage?

Beyond using a decent, high-SPF sunscreen, there are a few more steps you can take to be sun-safe this summer.

Limit your time in the sun

Although you still need to use SPF indoors, it’s much safer inside than outside. Enjoy your time soaking up the sun, but avoid spending all of your time outdoors every day. At the beach, pool, or park, use a decent UV-blocking umbrella for shade. Limit your time in the sun to a few hours at a time maximum, with breaks to sit in the shade.

Cover up

Although summer is the time for short skirts and swimsuits, it’s wise to cover up when you’re in the sun. Get a decent hat, a comfortable T-shirt, or robe-style coverup to wear at the beach or pool. This is especially important if you’re in the sun for a long period of time.

Bear in mind that clothing is not a substitute for SPF. It’s possible to burn through a normal T-shirt. You do, however, get special UV-blocking clothing and swimwear, which is worth the investment if you plan to be in the sun a lot this summer.

Don’t forget your eyes!

Your skin isn’t the only thing that you need to be concerned about. Your eyes can be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can cause both short-term and long-term damage. This is called photokeratitis, or ultraviolet keratitis.

Quality sunglasses offer UV protection. You should opt for glasses that block or absorb 99 to 100 percent of UV rays. Give your eyes a break every so often by spending some time indoors.

Drink water frequently

This is a good rule for life, but it’s especially important in hot weather. If you’re spending time outside this summer, keep a big bottle of cool water on hand. Not only is water important for maintaining the health of your skin, it can also prevent you from dehydrating in the heat. Dehydration can lead to headaches and a range of health issues. 

Using sunscreen is something we should all be doing: it’s a relatively simple way to protect your health and wellbeing. This summer, be sure to grab some high-quality sunscreen and use it on a daily basis. Don’t forget to reapply it regularly, and encourage your loved ones to do the same.

Now you’re ready to go ahead and (safely) soak up the sun!

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