Wearing sunscreen is very important for a number of reasons. The skin is the largest organ in the human body, and it’s vital that you protect it. This is especially true during the hot summer months in Northern Colorado when people tend to spend a lot of time outdoors. Even if you live in the north where summers aren’t as hot, you still need to wear sunscreen if you’re going to be outside for a significant period of time. Being exposed to the sun for hours without protection can lead to sunburns and dangerous conditions such as skin cancer. Here are the reasons why sunscreen is important and additional information about it.

How Sunscreen Works

woman applying sunscreen to her shoulder

Sunscreen is designed to prevent your skin from being damaged by the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The two main type of rays you need to protect your skin from are called UVA and UVB. Both can cause sunburn and other health conditions, including skin cancer. That’s because when UV light touches you, it is actually absorbed by the skin. It can then disrupt how your cells function and prevent them from growing. It also causes the elastin and collagen in your cells to break down, causing wrinkles.


Sunscreen can work in two different ways depending on what ingredients are used in the product. Those that use chemical ingredients are absorbed into the top layer of the skin. The UV rays are then absorbed by this layer instead of affecting your skin. Then there are sunscreen products that feature minerals like titanium dioxide as their active ingredient. These products remain on the surface of the skin and create a protective layer that UV rays bounce off of.


Understanding SPF

multiple sunscreen products with different SPF ratings


When choosing a sunscreen, one of the key things to consider is the SPF. This is the abbreviation for Sun Protection Factor, and the higher, the better. SPF protects your body from UVB rays. This helps prevent sunburn and even reduces your risk of getting skin cancer from UV rays.


The SPF number indicates how much protection it provides from UVB, not how long you can stay outside. A basic SPF 15 will block around 93% of UVB rays. However, SPF 50 blocks upwards of 98%. Most skin experts recommend at least a SPF 30, which provides around 97% protection. Those with fair skin or who burn easily, though, will want the highest SPF possible. However, going above SPF 50 provides little additional protection. While there are SPF 75 and SPF 100 products, they aren’t significantly better than SPF 30 or SPF 50.


Protect Your Body from Sunburns

woman with sunburn and tan line on her shoulder

Now let’s look at the importance of sunscreen. The first and most obvious reason to wear sunscreen is that it protects your skin from being burned. A sunburn is painful, and it greatly dries out and damages your skin. If you get a major sunburn, it hurts to have anything touch your skin. The burned area then starts to itch, and eventually the outer layers of skin die and peel off. Even if you’re only outdoors for a short period of time, it’s possible to get a sunburn. Always be careful, especially when going out without a hat or while wearing short sleeves.

Reduce the Risk of Skin Cancer


Perhaps the biggest reason for wearing sunscreen in the summer is to reduce your risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer can be very serious, especially melanoma. That form of skin cancer is very dangerous, and can even be fatal. It doesn’t matter if it’s cloudy or even if it’s raining—if you’re going to be outdoors for more than a few minutes, it is important that you wear sunscreen.


You Won’t Show as Many Signs of Aging


When your skin becomes damaged from the UV rays, it does more than just turning red. As mentioned earlier, it damages the skin’s collagen and elastin. These two proteins make your skin soft and supple. Without them, the skin starts to sag and become wrinkly. By wearing sunscreen and protecting your skin from UV rays, you’ll prevent premature aging. This also protects the skin from becoming discolored and from developing sunspots. Your skin tone will remain fairly even instead of developing spots that are permanently darker in color.


Your Kids Will Follow Your Example


Unfortunately, older teens and adults have often already done a lot of damage to their skin as children. While younger people’s bodies are naturally more resilient and do usually heal more quickly, you still want your children to be safe and healthy. Wearing sunscreen regularly will teach them to do the same.


Questions About Sunscreen


Now that you know a little bit about sunscreen and why it’s so important, let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions people have about this product.


Can Sunscreen Cause Acne?


Some people are concerned that wearing sunscreen regularly will cause them to develop acne. While sunscreen by itself will not cause acne, you do need to understand what type of skin you have. There are sunscreens specially developed for those who have sensitive skin. If you do find that you are having an acne breakout when using sunscreen, it may be due to one of the ingredients in the product you’re using. Try a sunscreen made for those with sensitive skin or that uses different active ingredients.


Does Sunscreen Expire?


While your sunscreen may not have an expiration date on it, it does become less potent over time. It’s always best to buy new sunscreen at the beginning of summer and to toss any that you haven’t used for a while.


Should You Wear Sunscreen Even if You Don’t Burn Easily?


Yes. Even if you have dark skin and don’t burn easily, you can still be damaged by the UV rays. While you may not get sunburned, the fact is that your skin is still getting damaged by the UV rays. Over time, this damage adds up. Even those with the darkest skin can still get skin cancer if they’re outdoors constantly.


How Often Does Sunscreen Need to be Applied?


Typically, you need to reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially if you’re outdoors a lot. You should also apply a new layer of sunscreen after swimming, even if you’re using a water-proof product.


How Do I Pick the Right Sunscreen?

multiple sunscreen products graphic

Determining which sunscreen is right for you typically isn’t too difficult. However, you may need to go through a period of trial and error before finding the one that’s ideal for your skin type. One of the first decisions to make is to determine which type of sunscreen works best for you: those that use chemical ingredients or those that use minerals to block out the UV rays. You may want to try one of each to see how your skin reacts to it. Typically, those with sensitive skin will find that mineral-based sunscreens do not irritate the skin as much.


Next, you may want to consider the method of application. Most people use lotion-type sunscreen that they rub into the skin, but there is also a spray option. Spray-on sunscreen is often easier to apply on children since it’s easier and quicker to use. However, it’s also easier to miss some spots, so be sure to use a liberal amount of the product. Another option is stick sunscreen. These products are usually best for protecting small areas of your body, such as your nose or your ears. Those two areas are often where skin cancer develops, so you may want to give them some extra protection.


For your everyday sunscreen, you may want to find a product that does a two-in-one. There are a number of foundations and moisturizers that include sunscreen in them. This makes it easy to apply the product daily. This type of sunscreen typically isn’t strong enough to protect you from direct sun for a long period of time, but it’s fine for daily use when you won’t be outdoors that much. If you will be spending the day outside, it’s best to use a dedicated sunscreen product.


Sunscreen is Just One Tool for UV Protection


Sunscreen is a very important part of your daily protection, but you do need to pair it with other tools and use it correctly. Put your sunscreen on in the morning before you go out. If you’re going to be outdoors a lot or for a prolonged period of time, be sure to reapply it regularly. Also reapply after you swim or shower.


While sunscreen does a great job of protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, you should pair it with other protections to decrease your risks of skin cancer and other concerns. Stay in the shade when possible. Wear a hat, pants, and long-sleeved shirts to keep the sun off of the majority of your skin. This isn’t always practical, of course, so be sure to use a good amount of sunscreen on any exposed skin. As long as you hit every spot and reapply as necessary, you’ll be protected.