The skin care aisle is full of products, serums, and medicines. And while many of those are effective at creating beautiful, healthy skin, one of the best products for healthy skin is simple: sunscreen.
Many dermatology services are used to treat the effects of sun damage on the skin. And while there are other skin conditions or reasons for treatment, the best thing you can do for healthy skin is to establish a habit of wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen every day.
Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of sunscreen.
Why Sunscreen Matters
Sunscreen is foundational to healthy skin. Every day, our skin is exposed to harmful rays from the sun, even if we don’t spend much time outside or the weather isn’t fully sunny. Sunscreen is a barrier that protects those rays from penetrating deep into the skin and causing significant damage to the look and health of your skin.
The sun’s harmful ultraviolet, or UV rays, are what causes skin cancer, which is one of the most common forms of cancer. An estimated one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime, and 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. Many of those cases are preventable with regular sunscreen use.
Dermatologists agree: sunscreen is the best and easiest way to create youthful, beautiful, and healthy skin.
But to be effective, you have to wear sunscreen every day. Many people fall into the trap of only applying sunscreen on days they will be outside for most of the day, such as when they go to the beach or hike on a sunny day. But the sun’s rays reach your skin every day, even if you aren’t outside for very long. The best way to protect your skin is to create a habit of daily sunscreen use.
Not all sunscreens are created equal. All sunscreen is good and provides a protective barrier, but the best protection comes from regularly wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen.
What is Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen?
The sun emits two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. UVA rays, or aging rays, cause tanning and premature aging like wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays, or burning rays, cause more serious sunburns. Overexposure to either type of ray can lead to skin damage and cancer. UVA rays may lead to a tan and not a burn, but every time you tan, you damage your skin. Over time, that damage can lead to significant skin concerns and potentially cancer.
Most sunscreens in the past would protect primarily from UVB. But as dermatologists have learned more about the damaging effects of UVA, broad-spectrum sunscreens have become more common. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone uses a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against both types of damaging rays.
Aside from being broad-spectrum, the best sunscreen products have an SPF of 30 or higher and are water-resistant. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and tells you how long it would take UVB rays to redden the skin compared to not using sunscreen at all. That means applying SPF 30 sunscreen as directed will take 30 times longer to burn than if you don’t use any sun protection.
SPF 30 offers stronger protection, especially if you’re spending more time outdoors or doing sports or other activities. Water resistance helps keep sunscreen on even when you’re swimming or sweating. No sunscreen is waterproof, but water resistance helps sunscreen stay effective for longer. It’s important to continually re-apply sunscreen, especially if you are in the sun for a long period of time.
Many people focus on SPF, understanding that a higher SPF offers better protection. But just as important as SPF is whether a sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection. A sunscreen with a high SPF can protect the skin from burning, but the skin is still exposed to dangerous UVA rays, which can cause damage. So although the high SPF sunscreen is preventing a sunburn, it could still be exposing your skin to harmful UV rays.
What to Look for in a Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen
With so many sunscreens on the shelf, how do you know which one to buy? Look for sunscreen that is clearly labeled as broad-spectrum with an SPF of at least 30. Broad-spectrum sunscreens receive a certain label if they can meet specific standards. If a sunscreen has the broad-spectrum label, it has been approved by the FDA.
Broad-spectrum sunscreen has active ingredients that block UVA and UVB rays. Not all ingredients are considered safe in all countries, and some have been linked to environmental damage. The two sunscreen ingredients recognized as safe and effective by the FDA, are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Titanium oxide is a broad-spectrum filter, meaning it protects against most types of UVA and UVB rays. It is allowed in concentrations up to 6%. Zinc oxide also protects against both types of UV rays and is allowed in concentrations up to 25%. Zinc oxide also works well on sensitive skin. When talking with your dermatologist or shopping for sunscreen, be sure to look for these two crucial ingredients.
Chemical or Mineral Sunscreen?
Aside from the basics of broad-spectrum sunscreen, many people wonder about the differences between chemical and mineral sunscreen, especially for their skin type. The main difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen is how they handle the sun’s rays. Mineral sunscreen creates a barrier that reflects UV rays. Mineral sunscreens are known for their white, chalky feel. They are the most powerful type of sunscreen because they create a physical barrier between the skin and UVA and UVB rays. Mineral sunscreen always offers broad-spectrum protection and contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
On the other hand, chemical sunscreen changes the chemical makeup of UV rays to make them less harmful to the skin. Chemical sunscreens are lighter and come in cream or spray versions. Many people prefer chemical sunscreens because they are easier to apply, but they are not nearly as effective at blocking UV rays as mineral sunscreen. Chemical sunscreen also wears off more quickly and needs to be reapplied much more often.
A dermatologist will likely recommend a chemical broad-based sunscreen for the most protection for your skin. Although chemical sunscreens are thicker, they are worth it for significantly better skin protection.
Benefits of Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen
Wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen brings numerous benefits for long-term skin health and overall health. Here are just a few of the benefits:
Reduces the Chance of Sunburn
UVB rays can burn your skin. Too much unprotected UV exposure to UVB rays can lead to sunburns. Every sunburn you get increases your chance of getting skin cancer. Only a strong broad-spectrum sunscreen can prevent a sunburn.
Decrease the Risk of Skin Cancer
The best way to avoid skin cancer is by wearing sunscreen every day. Regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40% and reduces the risk of melanoma by 50%. Melanoma is a particularly dangerous form of skin cancer because it can easily and quickly spread to other areas of the body if it isn’t treated early. Melanoma ranks among the deadliest skin cancers.
Prevent Premature Skin Aging
Aside from skin cancer, UV rays also cause wrinkles, sagging, and age spots. Research shows that 90% of visible signs of aging are caused by sun damage. Skin that is exposed to UVA rays over time can prematurely lose collagen and elasticity, which speeds up the skin’s natural aging process and makes the skin look older. A daily broad-spectrum sunscreen protects your skin from those harmful rays, which can help your skin look younger and healthier for years to come.
Maintain an Even Complexion
Sun damage is one of the biggest culprits behind uneven complexion, blotchy skin, and hyperpigmentation because UVA and UVB color skin inconsistently, especially during cloudy weather when the rays are filtered through clouds. UV ray exposure can cause sunspots, also known as age spots or liver spots, where flat areas of the skin are discolored and turn different shades of brown. Sunspots can occur anywhere the skin is exposed to the sun, such as the face, shoulders, arms, and hands. To keep the complexion even, dermatologists recommend wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day, not just on sunny days.
UVB and UVA rays are still strong on cloudy days. In fact, overcast days can be deceptive because they don’t appear to be sunny, but the rays are still coming through. A dangerous sunburn can still happen on these days, so it’s crucial to establish a habit of wearing sunscreen every day.