We hear lots of reasons why people think that sunscreen isn't necessary. At the risk of sounding like your mom, we'd like to say that yes, it is necessary! Here's some of the "excuses" we often hear for why people think they don't need to apply, and why sunscreen is so important.
"I don't burn, I just tan."
From a dermatological perspective, a tan is an indicator that your skin has been damaged by the sun. Everyone's skin contains pigment called melanin- lighter skinned people have less of it, and darker skinned people have more. When the sun begins to damage your skin, the body produces more melanin as protection. If your skin does not contain enough melanin, you'll burn. Naturally darker skinned people may be slower to burn, but a tan means that your skin is trying to defend itself (5). Even if your tan skin looks great now, visible effects of sun damage can often take years to manifest when they show themselves in the form of leathery skin texture, sun spots, and pre-mature wrinkles.
"I'm not going outside much today, or it's cloudy out."
If you're staying inside all day long, your skin is protected from the sun. But if you spend more than 10-15 minutes in the sun, you may start to see the effects of sun damage. This includes time spent driving when our arms and face can be exposed to sunlight coming in through car windows, or even short periods of time outdoors (running from your car to the grocery store) that can add up to skin damage. Even on cloudy days the sun still reaches our skin. It might not feel hot or burn us, but UV rays can still penetrate the deeper layers of the epidermis in ways that can result in skin cancer (4).
"Sunlight is good for you! It's helps your skin produce Vitamin D."
Yes it does! Vitamin D is necessary to a healthy body, and your skin can produce it from sunlight, which is pretty amazing. But here in the northeastern United States, we are so far from the equator that the sun's rays are not direct enough for most of the year to be used to produce Vitamin D. Poor air quality from the burning of fossil fuels can also have a negative impact on our ability to do this (2). Vitamin D levels take a long time to build up in the body, but dissipate quickly. Unless you're taking a regular Vitamin D supplement, you're likely D-deficient, and baking in extreme sun for a few hours isn't going to be enough to help with that long term (6). Talk to your doctor about testing for D deficiency and ask about supplements.
"But my moisturizer has SPF! I don't need to wear additional sunscreen!"
We hear this one a LOT, and there's a few reasons why it's false. To understand why, you need to understand the two categories of SPF, as well as ingredient labelling standards.
1. Organic Compounds (AKA "chemical" SPF). In chemistry the term "organic" means molecules containing carbon atoms. These ingredients protect us from the sun by absorbing UV rays and dissipating them as heat energy. This family of SPF ingredients includes avobenzone, which absorbs UVA rays, and octyl salicylate, which absorbs UVB rays. Sunscreens that protect from both UVA and UVB rays are labelled "broad-spectrum," sunscreens. Both types of rays are harmful, so always look for this label. Organic compounds may also be labelled USDA Organic, meaning they are made from organically grown plant products grown and produced without pesticides, to the satisfaction of FDA-regulated organic labelling.
2. INorganic compounds (AKA "mineral" SPF). These are ingredients like titanium and zinc, which create a physical barrier that reflects and scatters light rays before they hit the skin. These sunscreens may leave whiteish appearance on the skin due to the presence of these chalky minerals, although most modern sunscreens now contain particles so fine that this side effect is greatly diminished. These ingredients cannot be labelled USDA Organic since they are not grown, but we might consider them "natural products" since they come from the earth and are very safe for use since the molecules are too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
What's in your moisturizer? Most daily moisturizers containing SPF contain the first family of ingredients- chemical sunblocks that absorb UV rays. They typically come in around SPF 15. However, SPF 15 products will only protect your skin for a limited time after application, depending on how much melanin you have naturally. For most people, SPF 15 is not strong enough, and the amount of moisturizer you apply is significantly less than the amount you would need for adequate SPF coverage. Additionally, chemical sunblocks are absorbed into the skin after about 2 hours, leaving you unprotected for the rest of the day (1).
So what should we do?
Pick one and stick to it!
Use a single product containing SPF 30 or higher, but not every product you use needs to contain SPF. Your protection is only as good as your highest SPF, and it isn't cumulative. So if your moisturizer is SPF 15 and your primer is SPF 20, your coverage is still only SPF 20. Anything higher than SPF 50 is probably a waste- there's no clinical evidence that SPF higher than this offers better protection (7).
We already said that chemical sunblocks are absorbed by the skin after about 2 hours. Inorganic sunblocks containing zinc and titanium can't be absorbed by the skin, but they can be rubbed off, or wash off with sweat or water. Best to apply these types of sunscreen every 2 hours as well.
Avoid Mid-Day Rays
The sun's rays are most dangerous between 10am and 2pm. During these hours, seek shelter in the shade.
Organic Airbrush tanning and Organic Sunless Self-Tanners are a safe alternative to sun and tanning beds. They've come a long way from the orange, streaky products of the the past! make sure you speak with an Esthetician about how to properly care for your skin before and after a sunless tan in order to maximize your glow.
author: Juliana Burkhart