Too many of us equate sunscreen and fun in the sun, to the exclusion of the other parts of our daily lives. It’s a risky way of thinking, considering that one out of every five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime.
But isn’t the sun more damaging on a clear, hot summer day than on a cloudy, cool autumn one?
The truth is, even on a cloudy day, up to 40 percent of UV rays reach your exposed skin. That’s enough to contribute to long-term damage—exactly the type of damage you should be most concerned about when it comes to your skin health.
And though summer sunlight does contain a higher concentration of UVB rays, the UVA rays in sunlight—being of longer wavelength—tend to be much more consistent year-round. Research over the past two decades has shown that UVA rays contribute to, and may even be a trigger for, skin cancer. You should definitely take them into account.
Covering up with clothing, as most of us do in the colder months, does offer protection for the skin that is covered. But your exposed and unprotected skin continues to accrue damage during any time you spend in the sun. Period.
How much sunscreen should I use?
Apply a generous coating to all your uncovered skin. And don’t forget your ears and the back of your neck.
What type of sunscreen should I use?
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen: one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using SPF 30 or higher, which blocks 97 percent of UVB rays. Higher SPFs give you a little more protection, but obviously not more than 3 percent.
How often should I apply it?
Apply a fresh coat every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. If you’re inside and out of the sun, then you can probably wait until you head out again. And remember: Unless your windows are specially coated, UVA rays get through them—and they are a problem for your skin.
Any other advice?
There are so many SPF options these days: Moisturizers, creams, lip balms. You name it. So use something that’s comfortable and pleasant to your senses. You’ll be more likely to apply it if you actually like it.
Once you’ve made it part of your daily routine, you’ll see it’s no bother at all to make sunscreen part of your healthy lifestyle—and keep your skin happy for life.