The Importance of Using Sunscreen Year-Round

Posted by Ditza Katz in Women's Health 08 Dec 2014

From Sloane, our licensed aesthetician:

Most people associate sunscreen with the summer months, lying on a beach, or being active outside. It is really important to realize that skin protection must extend past those months of sun and fun to the rest of the year. To really understand this extremely important point, first, we have to understand what we are protecting against.

UV rays are contributing factors in premature skin aging, eye damage, and skin cancers. There are three different types of UV rays; UVA, UVB, and UVC.  The UVC rays are absorbed in the earth’s ozone layer and, therefore, do not affect us. The main difference between UVA and UVB rays is the size of the rays, which dictates what the rays can and can’t penetrate or affect.

For many years, scientists believed that UVB rays were the most dangerous UV rays; but, over the last 20 years or so, more and more evidence has been proving that UVA rays can also be dangerous to the skin. UVB rays penetrate the epidermis where most skin cancers occur. UVA rays penetrate the skin deeper down to the dermis layer, yet have been shown to also damage skin cells called keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. This means that UVA rays can contribute and may even initiate the development of cancerous cells in the skin.

For those who live in the US:  UVB rays are most significant during the months of April to October between the hours of 10 am to 4 pm. However, that doesn’t mean that during the rest of the year UVB rays won’t affect you. For those who live in areas that get cold enough to snow, you should know that UVB rays will reflect off snowy and icy surfaces and can bounce back up to 80% of the rays, which means that you are getting hit twice. UVA rays, though less intense, are 30-50% more prevalent and are present with comparatively equal intensity throughout the day and year just like UVB rays.

Some ways to help prevent these effects include:

  • Wear sunscreen 30 SPF or more on areas of the skin that are exposed YEAR-ROUND. I’ll settle for 15 SPF but 30 is definitely better.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Put sunscreen on at least 20mins before you are out in the sun. Some people find this one tough but this just means applying sunscreen before you leave for where ever you’re going. By the time you get to where it’s sunny, the product should be absorbed enough to be effective.
  • Reapply every 2 hours when spending all day outdoors. Even if working indoors all day sunscreen should be applied once in the morning to protect you during your morning commute.
  • Be persistent with your children! 80% of lifetime sun damage occurs before the age of 18.
  • Cover up when you can. Try to find shade throughout the day when spending the bulk of the day outdoors.

I understand that some of these practices can be asking a lot of people, especially if you are not used to making this much effort to avoid the sun. Being a reasonable esthetician, I always advise that if you really feel like you can’t accommodate all of these guidelines please at least incorporate a broad-spectrum sunscreen into your daily routine. It is a matter of just a few extra seconds added to your daily morning routine.

My last-ditch efforts:

  • The risk of skin cancer doubles if you have had 5 or more sunburns in your life or even if you have had just ONE severe sunburn as a child.
  • Melanoma is rising faster than any other cancer. (Melanoma is the least common but most deadly skin cancer. Responsible for 80% of skin cancer deaths).
  • Skin cancer is the number one cancer in men over the age of 50.
  • Skin cancer kills more women in their late 20’s and early 30’s than breast cancer does.
  • UV rays pass through clouds and window glass.
  • It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer, and 90% of those cancers will be the result of exposure to UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds.