You know you’re supposed to wear sunscreen, but what you may not know are all the reasons why it’s so very important. In this edition of our Doctor’s Office series, Dr. Adeline Kikam, a dermatologist and founder of @brownskinderm, a platform dedicated to skin care and dermatologic health education for all skin types, especially skin of color, gives us her top five reasons why sunscreen should be a key player in your everyday skin care routine.
Depending on the decade in which you were born, you most likely learned the importance of wearing sunscreen either as a small child or as a young adult. However, whatever your age, you may not have been taught all the reasons why you should wear sunscreen.
Of course, no one wants to experience the pain and suffering caused by a sunburn. That part is obvious. But sunscreen also performs a few other crucial tasks in maintaining your overall health and the health and appearance of your skin.
Why Wear Sunscreen?
Besides protecting you from sunburn (if your skin type does burn), why should you wear sunscreen? Here are my top five reasons:
- Sunscreen helps prevent skin cancers. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer and melanoma. UV radiation is the top risk factor causing these skin cancers. Consistent, adequate protection from the sun’s UV rays helps lower your risk, which is why it’s critical to apply sunscreen every day.
- Sunscreen prevents premature aging. The culprits of the aging process are divided into two categories: intrinsic aging (influenced by genetics) and extrinsic aging (induced by chronic exposure to the sun’s radiation, pollution, chemicals and other environmental factors). UV radiation causes the premature breakdown of collagen and elastin in skin, resulting in fine lines and wrinkles. It also damages pigment-producing cells called melanocytes, resulting in the overproduction of melanin causing hyperpigmentation. The sun’s ultraviolet radiation is responsible for an estimated 90 percent of visible signs of aging. Regular use of sunscreen allows you to enjoy smooth, youthful-looking skin for years longer.
- Sunscreen reduces the risk of hyperpigmentation. A common skin condition caused by sun exposure, hyperpigmentation is when your skin is darkened in patches due to changes in the production of melanin, which gives skin its color. People with darker skin are naturally more susceptible to hyperpigmentation.
- Sunscreen prevents inflammation of the skin. UV radiation damages the DNA of immune-protecting cells, leading to inflammation and free radical damage to skin and within the body. Immune suppression decreases our body’s ability for these cells to protect us from skin cancers and other illnesses. The immune system plays a vital role in maintaining the health of all the tissues of the body, so healthy skin is vital to overall health.
- Sunscreen prevents sun sensitivity. Sunscreens are particularly helpful in preventing solar irritation in people with sun-sensitive conditions, such as lupus and rosacea, where exposure to UV rays can lead to redness and burning in the skin and overall severity of these conditions.
How to Wear Sunscreen
Now, it’s important to know what type of sunscreen to use. I always recommend a physical sunscreen with an SPF of no less than 30. Unlike chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens are made of mineral-based ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide (some also contain iron oxide, which protects against blue light) that sit on top of the skin, deflecting damaging UV rays, rather than being absorbed.
Remember, sunscreen should be applied every two hours, every day, regardless of whether you’ll be spending most of your time inside or out. You should also pair it with a topical vitamin C serum, which can help combat exposure to free radicals and ultraviolet light, slow the signs of aging and brighten your complexion. When venturing outside, don’t just rely on your sunscreen, seek shade and wear wide-brimmed hats and other UV-protective clothing as well.