Do You Really Need Sunscreen Every Day?

On the days that aren’t warm and the sun is hiding— is it OK to skip sunscreen? What about on a cloudier, cooler day, or one where your time outside will be limited?

A trio of experts shared why sunscreen is always needed and cleared up common myths and questions about everyday use.

Should you wear sunscreen every day? Is that excessive?

Applying sunscreen to sun-exposed areas daily It’s essential — not excessive.

“The sun’s UV rays are potent, and just 15 minutes outside is enough exposure to cause damage and potentially skin cancer long term,” says Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and board-certified and fellowship- trained Mohs Surgeon with Westlake Dermatology in Austin.

You don’t simply get exposed to the sun outside. An older study from 2010 suggested that skin cancers more commonly occurred on the left side in men. This side is the one exposed to the sun while driving.

A 2016 study indicated that windshields blocked about 96 percent of UVA rays. However, some side windows may only block 44 percent.

Dietert says cancers caused by sun exposure can be aggressive and fatal if left untreated. But prevention is the best medicine.

“Applying sunscreen to your face, neck, chest, ears, hands, and arms daily is recommended to prevent long-term damage from the sun,” Dietert says.

Erum N. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology, agrees, and recommends applying SPF each morning as part of your skincare routine.

Find the right sunscreen

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends finding a sunscreen that is:

  • SPF 30+
  • broad spectrum, which protects against UVA and UVB rays
  • water resistant

Dietert explains there are two main types of sunscreens: chemical, which filters UV light, and physical (mineral-based), which blocks UV light.

“[Mineral-based sunscreens] generally protect your skin from a broader spectrum of UV light,” Dietert says. “For this reason, finding a sunscreen with mineral ingredients is ideal.”

Dietert adds that these mineral-based sunscreens may be particularly helpful for people with acne-prone or sensitive skin.

“These are less likely to cause irritation and skin allergies,” Dietert says.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two common ingredients in mineral sunscreens. Dietert recommends people with acne-prone skin look for sunscreen with niacinamide and avoid oil-based ones that can exacerbate the condition.

Benefits of sunscreen

Protection against skin cancer is a commonly cited reason for applying sunscreen daily — and for good reason. A 2020 review suggested sunscreen decreased the risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers.

But the review and dermatologists Anna Chacon, MD, and Ilyas, point to other benefits, including:

  • delaying signs of aging, like wrinkles
  • fading scars
  • Preventing discoloration
  • Protecting from blue light

A 2020 review pointed to wrinkles as one sign that regular sunscreen use could help delay. Chacon also says sunscreen helps fade scars.

Chacon, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, supports the review, saying sunscreen can also help delay signs of aging.

Ilyas notes that lately, people have become more interested in the blue light that emanates from electronics like tablets and iPhones.

Research from 2022 suggests that a broad-spectrum sunscreen containing phenylene bis diphenyltriazine (TriAsorB™) with SPF 50+ could protect against cellular photodamage from blue light, and another study from 2022 says that blue light makes up only a tiny portion of our UV-light exposure — about 2 to 5 percent.

“Although the effects of DNA damage on our cells is well documented, more than half of the spectrum of light emitted by the sun is visible light,” says Ilyas, who is also the CEO and Founder of AmberNoon.

Do sunscreen recommendations change if you have darker skin?

The myth that people of color don’t need sunscreen is damaging. A 2016 study indicated that the mortality rate for skin cancers was higher for people of color, and UV exposure is a leading cause of skin cancer.

Dietert agrees, advising everyone to apply sunscreen daily, regardless of skin tone.

“Lighter skin tones are at higher risk for skin cancer,” Dietert says. “However, with enough UV exposure, all skin types can develop skin cancer.”

Dietert adds that UV exposure can also lead to aging in all populations.

Can sunscreen trigger vitamin D deficiency?

Sun exposure helps people get Vitamin D, which Chacon says is essential for bone formation.

But she says the pros of wearing sunscreen outweigh the cons. “Too much UV light can cause skin damage by burning the skin and eventually causing it to lose elasticity, leading to premature aging,” Chacon says.

A 2019 review indicated that there isn’t sufficient data to support the claim that sunscreen makes an individual Vitamin D deficient.

If you’re someone who is concerned about Vitamin D due to an existing deficiency, there are options to supplement without putting your skin at risk.

After speaking with your doctor, you could take your pick of over-the-counter oral Vitamin D supplements. You could also increase your natural intake through food, like salmon and egg yolks.

For Melanated Skin

While there are tons of sunscreen options at varying price points, for folks with melanated skin, the unpleasant white cast that often comes with sunscreen may be a concern.

Brands like Supergoop are known for their lack of the dreaded white cast, as well as brands created by and for individuals with darker skin tones, like Black Girl Sunscreen.

What About Make-Up Products With SPF?

Some make-up has SPF, but Chacon warns it’s likely not enough protection. You may need to apply six to seven times the amount of a product to get the appropriate protection, which is more than most people use.

“I like to educate patients as viewing make-up with sunscreen more like “icing on the cake” and used more like an add-on than replacement,” Chacon says.

Other ways to protect the skin

SPF is important, but experts say it’s best to approach sun protection through different layers of protection.

Dietert suggests wearing wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective or “UPF” clothing with a UPF of 50+.

But again, these measures are a layer and do not negate the need for sunscreen.

“Sunscreen is still important, even when wearing UPF clothing, to screen UV rays reflected off surfaces like water or concrete,” Dietert says.

In addition to re-applying sunscreen every two hours, the AAD also recommends:

  • avoiding tanning beds
  • seeking shade
  • being particularly mindful between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m, when the sun’s rays are the strongest

Takeaway

It’s essential to apply sunscreen every day.

The sun’s rays can still damage the skin when it’s cloudy, and it does not discriminate based on skin tone. Research suggests that even sun exposure through a car window can up the risk for skin cancer.

Look for an SPF of 30+ and reapply every two hours if you are in the sun. Experts say a mineral-based sunscreen is ideal because it protects against a broader spectrum, and individuals with acne should avoid oil-based products.

Other layers of protection, such as UPF clothing, can also protect against sun damage, but they don’t negate the need to wear sunscreen every day.

If you’ve felt deterred by high price points or that pesky white cast in the past, don’t fret — there are tons of options (including some available at drugstores) that have the minerals and SPF that your skin needs to stay healthy.

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