Is it ever okay to skip out on the sunscreen? Skipping sunscreen is perhaps the biggest beauty mistake the majority of us keep making. While cloudy or cold days (or simply running late) may be easy excuses, skimping on sunscreen could actually age your appearance by years. Here’s why it’s important to invest in a quality daily sunscreen, year-round.
What Happens When You Don’t Wear Sunscreen
While applying sunscreen should definitely be a daily habit, America’s track record says we’re far from making that a reality. According to an ABC News poll, only 53% of women and 36% of men apply SPF—and that’s only “sometimes”.
While skipping sunscreen for a 10-minute walk might not seem like a big deal, the cumulative effects of sun damage will eventually take a visible toll.
How? The sun’s rays contain ultraviolet (UV) photons, which are like little bits of energy. These UV photons are invisible to the naked eye, but they can cause a lot of damage to the skin. When absorbed, UVB photons excite molecules in the skin. To release this energy, the molecules begin to warp via chemical reactions. This may manifest itself in the development of a couple brown spots(also known as age spots), a tan, or worse. UVA photons, on the other hand, are able to penetrate deeper into the skin, causing damage to elastin collagen proteins, which are two building blocks for smooth, firm skin.
Add up all of these interactions between the sun’s UV photons and skin’s molecules over time and we see visible signs of premature aging, including pigmentation, visible veins, broken blood vessels, brown spots, fine lines, and wrinkles, as well as increased skin cancer risk. This can occur regardless of your skin type and skin tone, whether you’re Fitzpatrick Type I like Emma Stone, or Fitzpatrick Type VI like Naomi Campbell.
The Sun Doesn’t Take a Vacation Day
While clouds, rain, or snowfall may hide the sun from view, weather should never be considered a shield from sun exposure. No matter the season or forecast, the sun is still up there every day, emitting UV rays that can wreak havoc on skin health and DNA.
You see, UVA and UVB rays may seem absent on a cloudy, rainy, or snowy day, but according to the American Academy of Dermatology, 80% of the sun’s UV rays will still make their way to the earth and damage exposed skin. Sand, water, and snow can also amplify sun damage risk, since they act as a mirror bouncing UV rays back to exposed skin. This results in double the exposure—once when the sun’s rays directly penetrate exposed skin, then again when UV rays are reflected off of sand, water, or snow and onto the skin’s surface. For those who like to hike in the summer or hit the slopes in the winter, or who simply live in an area of higher elevation, take note that UV radiation is intensified at a five-percent increase for every 1,000 feet in elevation, which means you’ll need to reapply sunscreen more often than when you’re at a lower elevation.
How to Properly Apply Sunscreen
This may be a repeat lesson for many, but choosing a quality sunscreen and applying it the right way is essential to effective protection. To make it simple, follow these sun safety guidelines:
Always opt for a broad-spectrum sunscreen to block both UVA and UVB rays, and aim for a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.Reapplying every two hours is essential, regardless of SPF rating. SPF ratings only apply to UVB rays—the ones that cause sunburns, tans, and cancer. They do not apply to UVA rays—those that can cause premature aging and changes in pigmentation, as well as cancer.Use at least an ounce (a shot glass, or two tablespoons) for full-body application, or a nickel-sized amount for the face alone if all other skin is protected under winter layers. And don’t forget your ears, neck, or your hands, which may be betraying your age otherwise!Facial moisturizers containing SPF 30 or above may be used in place of standard sunscreen, but remember to reapply every two hours.
As for those who may have believed the rumor, face oils that contain antioxidants are not a sufficient substitute for a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Is It Possible to Reverse Sun Damage?
Though treatments should never be considered a substitute for sunscreen, it is possible to minimize some of the visible signs of sun damage with intense pulsed light (IPL) photofacial treatments. These anti-aging treatments target the pigment beneath the skin’s surface using targeted light, correcting signs of uneven pigmentation and discoloration for a more even-toned, younger-looking complexion.
Remember, though, that while these treatments may work on darker skin tones, there is a higher risk of discoloration due to higher levels of pigment present in darker skin, so it’s best to have a certified treatment provider perform a test spot prior to any treatment.