Summer's officially over, so you're off the hook about the whole sunscreen thing, right? Not so much. Your skin actually needs sun protection year-round (yes, even in the dead of winter) in order to prevent skin damage and reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. If you're not already wearing sunscreen every day, it's time to make SPF your BFF.
You might think skin cancer can only happen to you if you use tanning beds or get frequent sunburns, but that's not the case. Skin cancer occurs far more frequently than many people realize, and all sun exposure affects your risk.
The Facts About Skin Cancer
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation...
- Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined
- 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetime
- More than 4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma (the most common form of skin cancer) are diagnosed each year
- More than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people in the U.S. each year
- One person dies of melanoma every 52 minutes, and an estimated 76,380 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year
Go here to get more facts about skin cancer and stay informed.
So, how does sun damage happen?
Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun have three different wavelengths: UVA, UVB, and UVC. While UVC never reaches the earth because it's stopped by the ozone layer, UVA and UVB rays are the ones we have to worry about.
UVA rays are primarily responsible for tanning and penetrate deeper into the skin to cause damage, while UVB rays affect the surface and superficial layers more—they're the ones responsible for sunburns and redness. UVA rays are the same ones emitted by tanning booths (and at 12 times the rate of the sun), which is why they're so risky.
Now, let's dispel some myths...
Myth: Glass blocks the harmful effects of the sun's rays.
Not always, unless you put special filters on your windows. Glass blocks UVB rays but it doesn't protect against UVA rays, so if you're in the car or inside by a window, you still need sunscreen.
Myth: If it's snowing, you don't need sunscreen.
Actually, you might experience even more sun exposure. Just as water reflects light back at you in the pool or on the beach, snow can have the same effect. Snow can reflect up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, so when you're outside in the winter, you often get hit by the same rays twice.
Myth: It's cold out, so you don't need to reapply.
You probably already know that you have to reapply your sunscreen after you go in water or if you sweat a lot, but if you're thinking that winter means you can apply once in the morning and be done with your sunscreen for the day, think again. If you're going to be facing heavy sun exposure throughout the day, you still need to reapply every two hours.
Myth: Clothing blocks the sun for you.
Mostly, yes, but it depends on the fabric. If your clothes are sheer at all, they'll still let in some of those harmful rays. Make sure you protect yourself accordingly with sunscreen wherever needed.
More Tips for Avoiding Sun Damage
- Make sure you protect your lips from sun exposure, too—they're often neglected, and just as at risk for cancer.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen—that protects against both UVA and UVB rays—with an SPF of at least 15 to keep your skin safe.
- Some foods and supplements might be able to help protect your skin (but you still need to use sunscreen).