You take care to wear sunscreen in the summer to protect yourself and your children from damaging UV rays. But what about the rest of the year? If you put the SPF away once summer ends, you could be in danger of long term skin damage.
Sure, you may not be spending as many days at the pool or beach once fall arrives, but that doesn’t mean you should stop using sunscreen completely. Even cool and cloudy days can add up to sun damage if your skin is unprotected.
Read on to find out why you need to use proper sun protection all year and which types of sunscreen make the best SPF. Oh, and when it’s ok not to slather on the ‘screen!
How UV Rays Damage the Skin
Before we delve into proper usage of sunscreens, what types are best, and when to apply, let’s cover exactly how UV rays can damage skin. There are three types of UV rays – UVA, UVB, and UVC. Because UVC rays do not make it through the earth’s atmosphere and are not associated with skin damage, we will focus on UVA and UVB.
UVA rays have longer wavelengths and penetrate to deeper layers of skin, known as the dermis. These rays cause long term and delayed damage, like wrinkles and premature aging. They also lead to the formation of free radicals, rogue molecules that can damage DNA and increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
UVB rays have shorter wavelengths and are almost completely absorbed by the epidermis, affecting the top layers of skin. These are the rays responsible for sunburn and are also linked to pre-cancerous DNA mutations.
1. Sun damage builds up gradually on skin
Sunburn is a pretty obvious result of overdoing sun exposure, but what about the subtler effect of UV damage that you can’t see right away? A study by the American Society for Photobiology showed that approximately 23 percent of sun damage is acquired by the time we reach 18 years old, with another 10 percent added on each decade after. This is way less than the 80 percent by 20 years of age figure that has been widely tossed around for years, but if you consider that most signs of damage take years or even decades to show up, this means that the sun damage you garnered as a child won’t show up until your 20s and 30s.
Not only is your skin accruing damage over years, but hours too. Researchers at Yale University found that the effects of UV rays continue to cause skin changes even after you’ve gotten out of the sun.
Melanin is a pigment in the skin that darkens with sun exposure and its primary job is to protect skin from the sun. But sometimes melanin may have a negative effect on sun exposed skin. The study showed that, in some cases, after coming indoors after spending time in the sun, melanin appeared to affect DNA in the same way that sunlight damages DNA.
This means that cancer-causing changes can affect the skin hours and years after sun exposure. But what if it’s cloudy? Are the risks as great when the day is overcast?
2. Skin accrues sun damage on cloudy days, indoors, and from reflected surfaces.
You’ve heard the old adage about getting a sunburn on a cloudy day, right? Well, this is more than a scare tactic your mother used to get you to apply more sunscreen. While clouds block some UV rays, about 80% of rays still get through. Other times clouds can reflect rays and actually increase UV exposure. Snow, sand, and water are other reflective surfaces for rays to bounce off of, which is why you come off the ski slopes with a feisty face burn.
The ozone layer absorbs around 50 percent of UVA rays and 90 percent of UVB rays. Sounds like a lot, right? With the annual incidence of skin cancer at well over 1 million, those rays that get through are obviously powerful enough to do harm and as the ozone layer becomes more and more depleted due to the release of manmade chemicals into the atmosphere, this protective filter is reduced. All the more need to wear sunscreen year-round for healthy looking skin and skin cancer prevention.
What About Unprotected Sun Exposure?
All of this UV talk can make you want to cover up and stay inside, but some unprotected sun exposure is healthy and necessary. UVB rays are responsible for the chemical reaction in the body that produces vitamin D, which supports bone health and boosts the mood. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so spending time outdoors with no protection is safest either before or after this time of day. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats, and UVA/UVB rated sunglasses when going SPF free in the sun.
It’s important to take into consideration your skin tone and family history of skin cancer when setting up your skin protection plan. Around 5-10 percent of melanomas are inherited from parents with a genetic mutation.
Research by the University of Southern California found that some people have a UV resistant gene, or a “sunscreen” gene, that acts as a tumor suppressor for skin cancer. Those with mutated or lower levels of the UV resistant gene may be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, especially if they spend time tanning or out in the sun.
There’s good news even for those who didn’t cash in on the sunscreen gene lottery. Researchers are hopeful that by understanding how this gene works to repair UV damage in the body, they are one step closer to developing treatments that could do the same.
Of course, not all skin types handle sun exposure the same. The Fitzpatrick scale is a way of typing different skin tones used by dermatologists. As you may have guessed, those with fair skin tend to burn and freckle more easily than those with darker skin tones, but what does this tell us about skin cancer risk?
Because melanin is the skin’s natural protectant against UV rays, it adds up that fair skin is more easily damaged because it has less melanin. Sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer, so it is ultra important for fair skinned types to pay special attention to sun protection to avoid risking the health of their skin.
That’s not to say that darker skin types are exempt from burns or skin cancer. It is less common for a person with dark skin tone to get skin cancer, but it is often caught at a later stage than on fairer skin, and late stage cancer is more difficult to cure.
Types of Sunscreen Ingredients and How They Work
Does the type of sunscreen you use matter? Absolutely! Here’s why.
Chemical sunscreen ingredients work by absorbing into the skin, sinking into deeper layers and absorbing UV rays. Mineral sunscreens zinc oxide and titanium dioxide form a physical barrier on top of skin, reflecting UV rays before they get a chance to absorb into skin.
As you know, UVA rays penetrate to the skin’s dermis to do their damage. Using chemical sunscreens gives them the ability to reach those deeper layers. Mineral sunscreen stops them before they have the chance.
Chemical sunscreens come with other health risks, like hormonal disruption and allergic reaction. Plus, they have detrimental effects on the environment. This year Hawaii passed a ban on the use of chemical sunscreens oxybenzone and octinoxate because the tons (yes, literally tons!) of these ingredients that end up in oceans each year are damaging coral reefs and harming marine life. Yet another reason to steer clear.
And then there are the other harmful ingredients used to create mainstream sunscreens. Synthetic fragrance and preservatives, artificial colorants, and silicones make regular appearances in conventional sun protection products.
Zinc oxide and Titanium Dioxide are safer and healthier choices for our bodies and the environment. And certain natural oils offer a bit of sun protection to help boost the efficacy of sunscreen. For instance, olive and coconut oils carry a SPF of around 7, while lavender and almond oils are closer to SPF 5.
Natural oils help carry the finely milled minerals and they also feed your skin vitamins and nutrients that it needs. Raw, unrefined oils like evening primrose, argan, and blackberry are rich in essential fatty acids that help calm and condition skin. Natural oils often contain rejuvenating Vitamin E and Vitamin A compounds that will help prevent the appearance of skin aging as well. All of these ingredients are biodegradable, as well.
Most chemical sunscreens are made of ingredients that do not feed the skin these valuable nutrients. Instead they simply carry the sunscreen chemicals. This means you are missing out on healthy improvements to your skin that you could get from a well-designed, natural mineral sunscreen.
Chemical sunscreens also expire within a year since the sunscreen ingredients degrade over time. That means you need to replace them regularly, spending more money and potentially wasting product. Mineral sunscreens are generally stable for up to 2 years because the minerals do not chemically degrade as they sit on your shelf.
The face is a more sensitive area of skin than the body, so be more cautious about sunscreen ingredients when shopping for a facial sunscreen. Silicone ingredients often lurk even in natural mineral sunscreens. They are included to help disperse the minerals pigments. They are non toxic, but they often cause breakouts for people who are prone to acne. Steer clear of ingredients like dimethicone, cyclomethicone, and cyclopentasiloxane among other compounds. If your skin is at all prone to congestion then these ingredients spell trouble even though they feel like silk. While the science on this issue is murky we have seen many people have deep, persistent breakouts from using silicone containing skincare and makeup. They offer no nutritional benefit to skin, so there is no reason to take the risk of breakouts.
While sweat, water, and sand can make it necessary to use more sunscreen and reapply more frequently, UV damage is very real year-round. So, in the name of protecting your skin and the environment, it is essential to use the best SPF made with safe sunscreen ingredients. Now, how to use those products when it’s not summer.
How to Wear Sunscreen All Year Round
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing sunscreen everyday if you plan to be outdoors, applying to all areas that will be exposed to the sun. There may be times when your skin is in contact with UV rays that you hadn’t considered, like sitting near a window at work, on your daily walk or bike ride, or while you are out running errands. UVA light reflects in through windows, so the most deeply damaging rays do not require that you be directly exposed to sun in order to accrue damage.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends children over six months should always wear sunscreen while in the sun and children under six months should be kept out of the sun. As for the rest of us, here’s a primer on getting your sunscreen on in non-summery months.
It’s one thing to slather on the sunscreen for a day at the beach and completely another thing when you are headed to work on a fall morning. Daily use facial sunscreen needs to be non-greasy, transparent, and wear well under makeup. That's a tall order from many sunscreens, which can have a greasy or slippery feel due to the sunscreen ingredients used to carry sunscreen chemicals or the silicones used to carry minerals even in many mineral based sunscreens. These problems have meant that many people are not using a daily sunscreen simply because they cannot find a product they enjoy using. If you are still on the hunt for the ultimate facial sunscreen that will perform perfectly while not leaving you feeling goopy then you are going to love Photonic.
Photonic - Light Shifting Solution SPF 25 Broad Spectrum Facial Sunscreen + Moisturizer is elegant and easy to wear whether you are spending the day outdoors or behind a desk. It is lightly moisturizing, completely invisible on skin, and designed to offer a sense of support to all skin types. A sunscreen dream come true? We like to think so.
Made with non-nano zinc to offer broad spectrum protection, Photonic feels super gentle on skin and goes on effortlessly. Perfect worn on its own or under makeup. Not only is it free from harmful ingredients, but it contains carefully selected botanicals to improve the look and feel of skin.
The beautiful pale pink hue comes from Astaxanthin, a red algae ingredient rich in antioxidants to provide a protective effect against skin stressors, like UV exposure. The tint disappears on application … just like magic.
Here at Blissoma, we don’t test on animals. But we do test on willing human volunteers in a variety of climates, from dry and sunny California to humid St. Louis. And they are in love with Photonic - Light Shifting Solution SPF 25 Broad Spectrum Facial Sunscreen + Moisturizer.
"Julie, I love the mineral sunscreen. First, it smells amazing. It goes on really smooth and dries quickly. I love the way it leaves my skin feeling, and maybe it’s placebo effect, but I feel like my skin looks more even after I put it on —even without make up. I would buy this.... It rules. Well done."
Feel free to use Photonic in place of daily moisturizer, or along with your regular facial serum and moisturizer for richer hydration. For best protection, apply Photonic as your last layer. Be sure to apply to neck and décolletage too.
The bottom line is to take care when spending time outdoors, know your skin’s limits and not stay out unprotected for too long, and use the most effective sunscreens. Years from now, your skin will thank you.