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Fun in the sun isn’t just a cliche. The sun has lots of benefits too.

There are plenty of ways to get your daily dose of sun any time of year, though we often associate sunny days with summer. Beach and pool days are a staple for many in hot weather, but hiking and walks around the block can be year-round activities.

As important as getting outside is, it’s also essential to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.

You may think it’s just as simple as slathering on the sunscreen, but there’s more to it than that. Read on to get expert recommendations on how to best shield your skin from too much sun.

Angela Casey MD, a double-board certified dermatologist and founder of Bright Girl, says we’ve come a long way in how we discuss sun protection. Still, plenty of misconceptions need to be dispelled.

A little prevention goes a long way

Casey works primarily with people who have skin cancer. She also sees a smaller portion of patients looking for cosmetic procedures due to hyperpigmentation and signs of aging.

Casey’s patients often express regret.

“Everything I see from skin cancer to cosmetics is related to sun damage,” says Casey. “Every day I hear patients say, ‘Dr. Casey, I wish I had known as a teenager and in my 20’s how to take care of my skin.’”

Casey says it comes down to the evidence—and getting it out there to more people.

“Getting factual, more evidence-based information…is really beneficial so [people] know the ‘why’ behind sun protection, how to achieve the most effective sun-protective measures, and why prevention truly is the best medicine,” Casey says.

Research shows sun exposure has several benefits, including boosting our cognitive and mental health.

It’s not just for sunny days

Sun protection is often top-of-mind during the summer, as life moves outdoors for barbecues, water sports and swimming.

However, Casey says sun protection should be as much a part of your routine as brushing your teeth: An every day non-negotiable.

This is true even if:

  • it’s hot and cloudy
  • it’s cold and sunny
  • it’s cold and cloudy
  • you’re driving to an indoor venue

Casey says sun protection is essential regardless of your race, age, or skin tone.

It does a lot more than prevent skin cancer

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., and an estimated 1 in 5 Americans will have skin cancer in their lifetime.

On top of that, they point to sun exposure as a critical risk factor.

“Ninety percent of skin damage is from ultraviolet exposure,” Casey says. “Prevention is a first-line treatment in keeping our skin as healthy as can be.”

Sun protection can do more than mitigate skin cancer risk. Casey says it can also help with skin appearance.

Sun damage can:

Though research on sun damage and skin cancer has grown, dermatologists say there are still things they wish people knew — and stopped saying — about sun protection.

Black people can’t get sunburned

Skin tone doesn’t protect you against sun damage, including burns.

Though skin cancer is less common in people of color, a 2016 study suggested that mortality in these individuals was higher. Researchers indicated this higher rate was partly due to a lack of awareness that the sun can impact dark skin tones.

“I see sun damage and skin cancers in people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and skin colors,” Casey says. “It’s important to spread the message that it’s not unique to fair-skinned individuals.”

This myth is particularly harmful, as burns are a risk factor for skin cancer.

You don’t need sunscreen indoors or when driving

Casey warns that the sun’s rays penetrate car, home, and office windows.

A 2016 study indicated that windshields blocked an average of 96 percent of UVA rays, but side windows blocked as little as 44 percent. Researchers suggested this may be the cause of increased skin cancer occurrence on the left side of people’s faces — that’s the side that faces the window when driving.

An older 2010 study indicated that skin cancers occurred more frequently on the left side of men’s faces.

You don’t need sunscreen if you’ll only be exposed to the sun for a few minutes

Viktoria Kozlovskaya, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, says there’s been some debate over how long someone can be in the sun without sunscreen.

Still, she recommends putting it on daily, as the strength of the rays will vary and affect people differently. Better to be safe than sorry.

“I recommend brushing teeth in the morning and putting sunscreen on,” Kozlovskaya says. “It’s actually much easier to apply if you are half-naked or naked cause you apply it on your neck as well.”

One application of sunscreen is enough

Not necessarily, says Casey.

“That’s OK if you’re indoors most of the time and not by a window,” Casey says. “A lot of sunscreen ingredients are broken down by sun exposure. Over the course of a couple of hours, they become less and less effective.”

Casey stresses that sunscreen can wash off when you sweat or swim. She advises you reapply every two hours and after exercising or going in the water.

A recent AAD survey of 1,000 U.S. adults suggested nearly two-thirds of people did not reapply sunscreen.

Any sunscreen will do

Not all sunscreens are created equally, Casey warns.

“It’s important to dive into the ingredients, especially chemical sunscreens,” Casey says.

Casey advises ensuring the sunscreen is broad-spectrum, SPF 30+, and contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

“That’s going to offer the best and most comprehensive protection against UVA rays, which go deeper into the skin and break down collagen, and UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer,” Casey says.

Sunscreen causes vitamin D deficiency

A 2019 review indicated that there was little evidence to support the idea that sunscreen leads to vitamin D deficiency. Researchers concluded the desire to have healthy levels of vitamin D in the body did not negate the need for sun protection to prevent skin cancer.

Kozlovskaya says there are other ways to get vitamin D, including supplements and food. Vitamin D is found in eggs, fish, and milk.

Waterproof sunscreens exist

Casey says some sunscreens are water-resistant, but no completely waterproof products exist. That’s why it’s essential to reapply after going in the water.

Follow these tips:

  • Check the bottle to see how long your sunscreen is water-resistant.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before diving into the pool to allow it to absorb.
  • Always apply to dry skin.
  • Be sure to get out of the water, dry off, and reapply within the timeframe on the label.

Shade is enough protection from the sun

Though sitting under a tree, awning, or umbrella can provide a shield from the sun, it doesn’t negate the need for SPF. Same for wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

“Sun reflects really effectively off sand and water,” Casey says. “If you’re in a pool with a wide-brimmed hat, the sun is going to bounce off the water and onto your skin.”

Casey says layering on sunscreen is still critical.

A light tan is healthy

This statement is a total misnomer, warns Kozlovskaya.

There is no healthy glow,” Kozlovskaya says. “A tan still damages DNA. You get the same possibility of getting cancer.”

Some patients have mentioned to Kozlovskaya that they get a base tan at the beginning of the summer to protect against sunburn. She warns that base tans are still tans, which means sun damage.

It’s too late to implement sun-safe habits

Kozlovskaya says that sun-related skin damage is an accumulation of a lifetime of exposure. That doesn’t mean there’s no point in starting to protect yourself against the sun later in life.

“It’s never too late,” Kozlovskaya says. “Starting any time will be protective.”

Cliche as it sounds, dermatologists believe prevention is the best medicine for sun damage, and that means sun protection.

Here are their top tips for protecting yourself.

Apply it every day (and reapply as needed)

Casey says slathering on SPF should be a part of your daily skin care regimen.

“Sun protection [is needed] year-round,” Casey says. “Even on cloudy days, a significant percentage of ultraviolet rays penetrate through clouds and reach us. Same thing for cold days. If it’s 20 degrees and the sun is out, or it’s 20 degrees and cloudy, those UV rays are reaching us.”

Casey recommends putting sunscreen on after cleanser and moisturizer to avoid washing it off. She says sunscreen should always be applied to dry skin.

Reapply every two hours if you’re in the sun, including driving or sitting by a window, and after sweating or swimming.

Use the right amount

Casey says people often skimp on sunscreen.

She says that people need to apply two milligrams per square centimeter of skin. Don’t have a measuring stick?

For most adults, use a quarter of a teaspoon of sunscreen on your face and neck area, plus a full shot glass (one ounce) on the rest of the body.

Find the right sunscreen

Casey suggests finding a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against UVA and UVB rays. She says UVA rays are the culprits for signs of aging, while UVB cause burns.

While no sunscreen protects against all of the sun’s rays, SPF 30 protects against 97 percent, and SPF 50 protects against 98 percent.

Casey advises people to use a water-resistant sunscreen if they plan to swim.

Remember: The whole body means the whole body

Kozlovskaya says she frequently sees people who forget certain areas of the body when slathering on SPF.

The most common spots people miss are:

  • lips
  • hands
  • feet
  • eyelids
  • ears

All of these body parts are susceptible to sun damage, she says.

Avoid peak sun

If possible, stay out of the sun when the rays are strongest.

Kozlovskaya says that’s typically between noon and 3 p.m. If you’re going to be in the sun during those times, stay under an umbrella or tree for extra protection.

The CDC recommends avoiding the sun even longer: From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Choose sun-protective clothes and accessories

Sunscreen is an effective way to mitigate sun damage, but clothing and accessories can provide extra layers of protection.

Kozlovskaya says she recently switched from two-piece swimsuits to one-pieces with sleeves for an added barrier between her skin and the sun.

She also recommends:

  • a wide-brimmed hat
  • sunglasses
  • darker colors
  • clothing made of thick materials, like denim
  • long sleeves and pants

Kozlovskaya understands that many of these items, including thick materials and pants, are fine for the winter but can make you feel hotter in the summer. She typically opts for lightweight linens in the summer.

You can also look into sun-protective clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says clothing marked UF 50+ provides “excellent” protection. Items marked UPF 30-49 offer very good protection.

Do a skin check at least once per year

Not everyone needs to see a dermatologist, but Kozlovskaya advises people to check their skin for abnormalities at least once per year.

The AAD suggests checking your skin annually on your birthday so you don’t forget.

They also recommend speaking with a board-certified dermatologist if you notice itching, bleeding, or other changes in your skin.

People at a higher risk for skin cancer or who have had skin cancer in the past should speak with their care team, such as primary care physician, oncologist, or dermatologist about the best cadence for check-ups.

Casey believes the best sun care product is one that you’ll use. She says everyone should look for a sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

In addition, both she and Kozlovskaya say certain ingredients found in sunscreens can be beneficial for certain skin types and environmental factors.

Oily skin

Sunscreen can make oily skin feel greasier.

Casey recommends an oil-free, non-comedogenic product. These items are less likely to clog pores.

Try La Roche-Posay Anthelios Light Fluid Face Sunscreen.

Secondary ingredients that may be beneficial for people with oily skin include:

Dry skin or climates

Individuals with dry skin or those headed to a drier climate, like a desert vacation, may benefit from a sun care product with moisturizing ingredients.

These ingredients include:

Casey recommends CereVe products for people with dry skin.

Sensitive skin

Casey suggests people with sensitive skin steer clear of sun care products with three common irritants:

She recommends a mineral-based sunscreen rather than a chemical one.

Casey warns that people with sensitive skin often have to try a few products to find the one that works for them.

“It’s trial and error,” she says.

Kozlovskaya says sunscreen marketed for babies is often a good choice, as it typically contains fewer ingredients.

is popular with parents of young children.

It’s always a good idea to do a patch test before you use a new product on your skin.

Dark skin

Casey says people with dark skin may avoid sunscreen in part because of the white caste it leaves behind.

These days, there are better options available that match darker skin tones or go on clear.

Make-up wearers

Casey suggests finding a sunscreen with a tint to it. She says this can make life easier if you’re in a rush and more comfortable in the summer heat.

Try Supergoop! CC Screen 100% Mineral CC Cream SPF 50 PA++++.

Bonus: It can double as a foundation, so you’ll have one less layer of product on your face.

For swimming and water sports

If you’re diving in, Casey says you’ll want to find a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. She recommends a dry-touch or gel formulation.

Remember: “There are no waterproof sunscreens, but there are a lot of formulations that offer water resistance,” Casey says.

Sun damage is a leading cause of skin cancer and cosmetic skin issues, including wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.

Experts say prevention is the best medicine. Add sunscreen to your skin care regimen every day for the best protection. Use a broad-spectrum product that has at least SPF 30.

All skin types and tones are susceptible to skin cancer and damage from the sun. There’s no such thing as healthy color, such as a “glow” from a tan. Even if you don’t get color in the sun, you may still have experienced damage.

If you haven’t protected your skin well throughout your life, there’s no better time to start than now. You benefit every time you protect your skin from harmful rays.


Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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