Summertime is officially almost around the corner! This means that we are likely spending more time outside and in the sun. Sunscreen is certainly something I am very passionate about applying. I am super light-skinned and have been burnt to crisps more times in my life than is good/healthy for me. Therefore, doing the research for this “Why do we need protection from the sun” post certainly taught me a thing or two!! I hope you will find it as informative and useful as I found it when researching it 🤗.
A word of caution. The below text is quite explicit with regards to health damage, as well as references to cancer. If this is a topic that triggers you, you may want to skip this blog post 💚.
Why Do We Need Protection From the Sun?
Too much unprotected time in the sun can mean that our skin is aging prematurely. That means that we develop wrinkles and age spots faster through damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light. It can also cause issues for our eyes, eyelids, and the area around our eyes. Whereas you may not see this “damage” when younger, it will become more visible the older we get (I know – what a treat 😏).
The sun can also break the skin’s immune function and turn cancerous. There are three types of cancer that you can develop from sun damage: Basal cell carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma, and Melanoma. The first two types of cancer mentioned have a good chance of being treated and healed. Melanoma, if left untreated, can spread to other organs and may also develop later in life, especially from severe sunburns that we had before being 18.
What Is Ultraviolet (UV) Light and What Type of UV Rays Are There?
UV radiation is basically natural energy that the sun produces. UV light has shorter rays than natural light, which makes it invisible to the naked eye, yet our skin picks up on it. Note: Albeit tanning beds are “man-made” they also emit the same UV light. There are two types of UV rays that have been proven to provide damage to our skin:
- UVA – has longer wavelengths and is associated with the aging of our skin. Whereas they are slightly less intense than UVB rays, they can penetrate the skin more deeply (in fact “tanning” or tanned skin is also a form of skin damage). These rays are everywhere and can also reach through clouds and windows
- UVB – has shorter wavelengths and penetrates and can burn the outer layer of our skin. The intensity of UVB rates fluctuates depending on where you are. Think, for example, late morning to early afternoon in summery Northern Europe when the sun is particularly hot, but obviously greater timespans in e.g. the tropics, or with reflective surfaces, such as snow, ice, altitude, etc
It is important to note that both UV ray types appear to harm the skin and contribute to the skin damage we discussed above.
What Does SPF Stand for?
The Sun Protection Factor is directly connected to the UVB rays. It basically tells us how long the sun’s radiation would take to redden the skin when using the product, in comparison to not using it. So, if you are using an SPF30 it means the sun will take 30 times longer to burn your skin than without any sunscreen (so for example, I burn within 5 minutes, so SPF 30 means my skin would burn after 150 minutes).
SPF 30 blocks about 97% of all UVB lights, SPF 50 blocks about 98%. Whereas this may seem like a small difference, it actually means that SPF30 is allowing about 50% more radiation on your skin. When shopping for sunscreen, you should ensure that it is “broad-spectrum”. This means that it is protecting against both UVA and UVB rays. Also, if you do spend a lot of time in the water, a water-resistant sunscreen further helps to protect your skin.
What Types of Sunscreen are out there?
There are two main types of sunscreen: Mineral and chemical.
- Mineral sunscreens sit on the skin and reflect UV light from the sun away from the body and usually contain one of two main ingredients: Zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide
- Chemical sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb the UV rays, convert them into heat in the body, and then release them. These chemicals are mainly one of the following: Minobenzoic acid, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. There is some research looking into oxybenzone as a potential hormone disrupter. However, there has been no conclusive research being conducted in humans to this date. There were studies conducted on rats and us humans would need about 277 years of applying chemical sunscreen in order to get the same dosage the rats received.
Where Is The Difference Between The Two?
Mineral Sunscreens are oftentimes less irritating for sensitive, or acne-prone skin. In fact, zinc oxide is both anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial. However, mineral sunscreens are a lot more moisturizing. This means that you can oftentimes get this white, cakey feel when applying them. It may also take longer to work them into your skin. There are newer brands out there that are making mineral sunscreens more “attractive” by manufacturing them to be less cakey (this process is called micronizing). Something no one mentioned whilst I did my research, but that I found, is that they also tend to be more expensive than chemical sunscreens.
Chemical Sunscreens absorb quicker into the skin and usually have a higher water-resistant factor (albeit mineral sunscreen companies are starting to include this as well).
Remember that sunscreen is not the only protection against the sun. Protective clothing, hats, and keeping in the shade during the hot hours of the day work hand in hand with applying sunscreen.
What About Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is also oftentimes called the “sunshine vitamin”. Your body produces it when directly exposed to sunlight (albeit you can also get it from small dosages in food). Vitamin D plays a critical role in the body. It helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and plays a key role in helping our immune system to function normally. Sunscreen blocks UVB rays which help with the production of Vitamin D. Because of this there is a chance that your body is producing less Vitamin D. In the Northern hemisphere, most people are prone to a Vitamin D deficiency anyways. The good news is that you can easily get this tested with your health care practitioner. Once you have the results, Vitamin D can be supplemented to help you reach adequate levels.
Am I Exposed to The Same Risks of Sun Damage If I Have Darker Skin?
Darker skin tones are definitely more protected. Melanin is the pigment that gives the skin a darker color and also protects it from damage from the sun. So yes, you are less likely to experience sunburn and potential damage from the sun. However, it does not make you immune to these types of risks altogether. In fact, skin cancer is oftentimes detected a lot later by health care professionals, which makes the risk of dying from it higher.
Wait – I Already Have an SPF In My Make-Up!
I thought I would mention this one because I have totally fallen for it in the past. You would need about seven times more foundation in order to adequately protect your face and get the SPF on the bottle. It is much better to either use a sunscreen with a bit of tint or apply sunscreen prior to putting on make-up.
What About Sun Damage During the Wintertime?
We are definitely more prone to skin damage when the sun is shining in the hotter months of the year. But remember, UVB lights are particularly damaging on reflecting surfaces (e.g. snow). And UVA rays are constant all year round and can penetrate through clouds, fog, and glass. So protecting your skin is as important in the winter as it is in the summer.
Where Do I Go From Here?
Go and put on some sunscreen 😉. I am, of course, just kidding. But I think the biggest takeaway is that sun protection is important no matter what age. Regardless of the sunscreen you are using the best defense against sun damage is wearing one and now you fully understand the reasons as to why do we need protection from the sun 💕.