Wearing sunscreen daily is an important way to protect yourself not only from sunburns but also from skin cancer and early aging of our skin. We tend to only think about applying sunscreen when we will be outside for a long period of time on hot days, but we can burn when we don’t anticipate it and we can experience short-term skin damage even during daily, brief periods of sun exposure. 

How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreen protects us by reflecting harmful ultraviolet (UV) waves of sunlight away from our skin. The level of protection from UV waves is indicated by the sun protection factor (SPF). SPF values relate to how much a particular sunscreen protects us from UV rays — not how long the protection lasts. For example, SPF 15 may be effective for protecting your skin in the early morning.  But in the afternoon when the sun is more intense, a higher SPF option would be more appropriate.

Why use sunscreen every day?

It is very important to avoid sunburns, especially when we are young, so we should always use sunscreen on days we expect to be in the sun for any prolonged period.  Sunburns on young children are particularly harmful.  Even having just a few bad burns as a child has been linked to an increased risk of skin problems later in life.  But even if we avoid burns and our daily sun exposure is limited, it is still beneficial to use sunscreen every day as even brief sun exposures are additive over time.  Some benefits include:

  • Reducing sunburns Sunburns can form in as little as 11 minutes, so using sunscreen — even if on a short, leisurely walk — will help prevent sunburns.
  • Preventing aging of the skin– UV rays can damage our skin over time which can lead to wrinkles and other signs of sun damage.
  • Reducing risk of skin cancer – Excess sun exposure is the main reason for nearly all skin cancers.

How often should I reapply sunscreen?

Although there is no strict answer, it is recommended that we reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. Exposure to moisture, such as from swimming or sweating, may mean we need to reapply more often. If we spend most of our time indoors, one application a day should suffice. 

Which sunscreen should I use?

There are several factors that are in play when selecting the right sunscreen:

  • SPF – As mentioned earlier, higher SPF values will better protect your skin from the sun, so choose the appropriate value depending on the time of day and what activity you are doing.  SPF ratings of 30 or above block over 97% of harmful UV waves.
  • Broad-spectrum sunscreen – In order to be fully protected, you need broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both Ultraviolet A (associated with aging) and Ultraviolet B (associated with sunburns).  Ensure the label specifies protection against both.
  • Water-resistant sunscreen – Swimming and sweating may cause some holes in your sunscreen’s protection, so a water-resistant sunscreen can help ensure you stay safe.

Where should I apply sunscreen?

Sunscreen should be applied on any area of your body exposed to the sun. Many people remember their arms, face, and neck, but be sure to remember your ears, which are very common locations of skin cancer, and to wear a lip balm with SPF protection as well.  Other areas that are easy to overlook are your feet if wearing open-toed shoes, and your scalp, especially if you have light-colored or thinning hair.

The Effects of Not Wearing Sunscreen

UV rays can cause both short-term and long-term damage to your skin. At the extreme, excess UV exposure leads to burns, which at the least are unpleasant, but severe burns can require medical attention.  Although most sunburns can be treated at home with topical medications such as vitamin E cream or topical anesthetics, some sunburns will cause the skin to blister and are accompanied by a fever, dehydration, nausea, and severe pain.  Severe sunburns are much like thermal burns and require prompt medical attention. If you are near Bryan or College Station, TX, and believe your burn needs immediate attention, our two emergency departments are open 24 hours a day and can evaluate and manage any type of sunburn.