As a dermatologist, I recommend everyone – men, women and children older than six months – wear sunscreen every time you go outside, year-round. I know many people only think about sunscreen as the weather gets warmer; and since most of us have been staying indoors at home to help slow the spread of COVID-19, we are particularly excited to get outside – to breathe some fresh air and feel the sun on our skin.
By any measure, getting outdoors is good for the mind and the body – especially these days. But please don’t forget your sunscreen!
Why is sunscreen so important? According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the American Cancer Society (ACS), protecting your skin from the sun can reduce your risk of skin cancer, sunburn and premature skin aging. In addition to mitigating your time spent in the sun and wearing protective clothing, sunscreens are an essential part of staying healthy.
So, now that you are convinced of the need to wear sunscreen every day, how do you choose the right one?
First and foremost, any sunscreen you use should be broad-spectrum and have an SPF of at least 30. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
SPF – or Sun Protection Factor – is currently the only comparative rating available for selecting one product over another in terms of possible sun protection.
I know consumers can be overwhelmed when choosing a sunscreen. There’s a lot of information out there, including reports that make sweeping generalizations about the effectiveness of sunscreen. Unfortunately, some of those reports are based on very old science and technology. Some of the best sunscreens on the market rely on newer formulations that are much more effective.
It’s also worth noting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to update its sunscreen standards, which will help eliminate a lot of confusion. In the meantime, given the well-established benefits of sunscreens, FDA urges everyone to keep using it.
Here are some other helpful tips from AAD:
- Use sunscreen whenever you are going to be outside, even on cloudy days.
- Apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin not covered by sun-protective clothing. Most adults need about 1 ounce — enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body.
- Don’t forget to apply to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head if you have hair loss.
- When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
Just like wearing your seatbelt or brushing your teeth, you can’t use sunscreen some of the time – you have to use it every time you are outdoors. I am reminded of the young child who asked which teeth he had to brush, to which the dentist replied, “only the ones you want to keep.” The same is true for your skin.
Where and when should you use sunscreen? Every day you are outdoors, and on the skin you want to be beautiful and healthy for the rest of your life.
Zoe Diana Draelos, MD is a dermatologist and researcher from North Carolina, widely recognized for her expertise on the use of sunscreen.