4 Reasons Sunscreen is Essential to Your Health

Why you should never go outside without protecting your skin from the sun

Sure, you probably know that it’s a good idea to protect your skin with sunscreen before heading out into the great outdoors, but if you’re being honest, how many times will you actually slather it on before spending time outside this summer?  

Yes, it can be a project to put it on (especially if you’re using a lotion, which by the way, is more effective than spray-on sunscreen) and we get that you want to achieve that bronze summer glow, but skipping out on sunscreen, even if your skin isn’t prone to burning, is much more detrimental to your health than you probably think.

Related: 11 Myths About Sunscreen (And How to Protect Your Skin Properly)

Aside from the fact that suffering from sunburn is just all around uncomfortable, when I talked to  Dr. Cynthia Bailey, a board-certified dermatologist and the President and CEO of Advanced Skin Care she said that you can’t reverse the damage that excessive sun exposure does to both your skin and DNA.

In other words, every time you sustain a burn or venture out unprotected, you increase your risk for skin cancer. Bailey told me that even just one “blistering” sunburn before the age of 18 can double your risk for melanoma, which is why when patients ask her about sunburn she always emphasizes prevention first.

Related: The Best Sunscreens for Protecting Your Skin this Summer

Hopefully everything I just mentioned is enough to get you to slather sunscreen on your skin any time you head outside this summer (and all year long, actually). But in case you’re still not convinced that you absolutely need this accessory that is too often overlooked, here are four more reasons why you absolutely always need to wear it, no matter what.

1.) Even while you’re inside, your skin could still be susceptible to the sun.
It almost sounds crazy, but according to Dr. Susan Huang, a board-certified dermatologist at the Harvard teaching hospital Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an instructor of Harvard Medical School your skin is still vulnerable to sun damage through windows. “Typical windows only block out certain types of ultraviolet rays from the sun,” says Huang. She referred to the example of a truck driver who accumulated many more wrinkles on the left side (driver’s side) of his face after 28 years on the job. “These wrinkles were a result of the chronic ultraviolet exposure from the sun,” she says.

2.) Even on a cloudy day, you’re skin still isn’t safe.
Bailey told us that too many people make the mistake of believing their skin is safe while the sun is hiding behind clouds. However, UV rays have the ability to penetrate through clouds, so just because you can’t see or feel the sun doesn’t mean it can’t damage your skin. She also pointed out that it’s important to use protection in the morning, the late afternoon and even when you’re in the shade. In other words, there’s no time of day or type of weather when your skin is safe from the sun.

3.) Sunburn, especially repeated instances, increases your risk for skin cancer.
“UV exposure causes free radicals to form in your skin and they damage your skin cell’s DNA,” says Bailey. “This leads to skin cancer. It also leads to a series of events in the skin that cause a cycle of skin collagen breakdown and skin thinning.”

Most recently, a new 20-year study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention that closely investigated the medical histories and sun exposure habits of 109,000 white female nurses concluded that suffering five or more “blistering” sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 could increase the risk for melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer) by 80 percent.

Of course, this study only adds to the already growing body of research that has uncovered just how harmful cumulative exposure to the sun can be.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • The major risk factor for melanoma of the skin is exposure to ultraviolet light.
  • Avoiding this risk factor alone could prevent more than 3 million cases of skin cancer every year.
  • In 2010, new research found that daily sunscreen use cut the incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in half
  • Increasing intermittent sun exposure in childhood and during one’s lifetime is associated with an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma

4.) You can avoid becoming part of a prevalent statistic.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers in more than 2 million people are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Research also suggests that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their life and that by 2015 about one in 50 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma.