In the words of the Backstreet Boys:
I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you wear sunscreen.
Okay, maybe that’s how the song goes.
But you get my point—wearing sunscreen is REALLY important.
Below check out the three reasons why you should start wearing sunscreen today (if you aren’t wearing it already).
1. It slows down skin aging
Wrinkles are genetic, right?
Well, not completely.
After examining 298 women, one study concluded that UV exposure is actually responsible for 80% of visible facial aging (source).
Let’s get into the details.
According to the study:
- Dark spots (and other pigmentation issues) are mostly caused by sun exposure. The good news is that these are usually easy to get rid of, especially when you have access to a good dermatologist.
- Wrinkles are caused by both sun exposure AND the natural aging process. FYI: Don’t forget to protect your neck—jawline folds are a thing and, a lot of the time, they’ll make your neck look like “crumpled paper.”
Now that we got the background info out of the way, let’s talk about sunscreen.
Oh and don’t worry if you’ve never worn it before—it’s never too late to start! Here’s proof:
A year-long study found that using an SPF 30 sunscreen can reverse the signs of sun damage (source).
In fact, the researchers in this study noted a 20% improvement in crow’s feet and a 40-52% improvement in things like texture, pigmentation, and skin clarity.
So while you can never turn back the clock completely, you can still make a pretty big impact by making small changes to your routine.
What type of sunscreen protects against premature aging?
Since UVA rays have a longer wavelength (320-400 nm), they can penetrate deep into your skin. These rays can cause oxidative stress, DNA damage, not to mention fine lines, wrinkles, dark marks, etc. That’s why you need a sunscreen that blocks UVA rays.
To find out if your sunscreen does this, look for a PA rating—FYI: PA++++ is the highest rating you’ll see.
If you don’t see a PA rating, at the very least, check for the words “broad-spectrum.” That means that your sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA rays.
P.S. Here’s an image that dermatologists LOVE to show off. It’s of a 69-year-old truck driver who braved the open road (while never wearing sunscreen) (source). As you can tell, the left side of his face—the side that was exposed to drivers-side sunlight—didn’t fare too well compared to the rest of him.
2. It prevents sunburns
In the last section, we talked about UVA rays. Now let’s move onto the next group.
Compared to UVA rays, UVB rays have a shorter wavelength (290-320 nm). As such, these rays do their damage on the surface layers of your skin.
What does that mean?
One word: sunburns.
Fast fact: UVB damage is responsible for 80-90% of all sunburns (source).
What type of sunscreen protects against sunburns?
A lot of people don’t know this, but SPF (sun protection factor) is a measure of how long your sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays. So try to use a sunscreen with a decent SPF—if you’re outdoorsy, make sure to use something with an SPF of 30 or more.
3. It reduces the rate of some skin cancers
In the grand scheme of things, wrinkles and sunburns aren’t so bad.
Skin cancer, on the other hand, is.
And guess what.
It’s on the rise!
Statistics show that 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer by the time they’re 70 (source). Yikes.
Now for the real question:
Can sunscreen prevent it?
The answer: Maybe.
The truth is, the research is all over the place.
The good: One study found that the daily use of sunscreen significantly reduced the rate of squamous cell carcinoma (source).
The bad: There aren’t any studies that definitively confirm the role of sunscreen in basal cell carcinoma or melanoma (aka the deadly type of skin cancer).
Nevertheless, since UV damage is linked to skin cancer, it’s recommended that you use a broad spectrum sunscreen in an attempt to block this sort of damage.
How much sunscreen should you use?
Dermatologists will usually tell you to follow the teaspoon rule.
What’s the teaspoon rule?
It’s an easy way to measure how much sunscreen you should use on your face and body.
According to this rule (source):
- Use 1 teaspoon for your face and neck
- Use 1 teaspoon for each arm
- Use 2 teaspoons for your chest, torso, and back
- Use 2 teaspoons for each leg
And, of course, don’t forget to reapply sunscreen throughout the day. Especially when it comes to sweaty outdoor activities!
Is sunscreen your only defense against the sun?
In addition to sunscreen, it’s also recommended that you:
- Limit your sun exposure (particularly between 10am to 4pm when the sun is beating at full strength)
- Avoid tanning beds (they increase your risk for skin cancer – source)
- And wear protective clothing (like hats, UPF shirts, etc.)