Sunscreens and the benefits

Sunscreen has suddenly become controversial. A recent magazine article compared sunscreen to margarine – as if it’s an outdated health fad. 

Sunscreen is important (really important) to skin health. Ask just about any dermatologist, and they’ll tell you the same thing:

Consistent sun protection is the single most important step we can take for the long-term health of our skin. That’s because ultraviolet light damages skin cells every time we step out in the daylight – and the effects are cumulative. (The intense UVB rays that can cause summertime sunburns can be highly damaging, but we can also rack up significant cellular damage from the more deeply-penetrating UVA light that’s present year-round.) Even if you wear protective hats and clothing and avoid peak sun hours and indoor tanning, it can be hard to adequately protect your skin without the help of a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen. 

Sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer. Exposure to ultraviolet light accounts for approximately 80-90% of all skin cancers – and skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Sunscreen has been shown in scientific studies to lower the risk of the three most common kinds: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, the deadliest type. 

Sunscreen is effective. It’s true that sunscreen is far from perfect. It can be inconvenient to apply, it may last 2 hours at best, or even less if we’ve been swimming or sweating. It could lower our vitamin D levels if we’re really consistent about applying it (though probably very few of us are, and UV exposure is not the safest or most effective way to bolster vitamin D levels). But in spite of these challenges, sunscreen can and does help to protect skin from ultraviolet damage. The most common reasons we may wind up with a surprise sunburn or UV damage in spite of sunscreen? We may not slather on enough (studies show most people apply 1/4 to 1/2 the recommended amount), we don’t choose one that’s broad-spectrum with at least SPF 30, or we don’t apply it often enough (reapplication every 2 hours is where many of us fall short). 

Sunscreens are widely considered to be safe. The mildest ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – are made from minerals that have been labelled by the FDA as GRASE (Generally Regarded as Safe and Effective). These gentle protectors are often found in sunscreens labelled with terms like “baby,” “pure,” “mineral,” and “sensitive,” and an increasing number are now being marketed as “reef safe” for beach and snorkelling days. 

Sunscreen is the world’s most powerful anti-aging cream. For those who feel no other motivation to wear SPF, at least consider the cosmetic payoff. Sunscreen helps to guard against fine lines, wrinkles, spots, visible blood vessels called telangiectasias, rosacea flares, irregular skin texture and tone, loss of collagen and elastin, and reduced skin firmness and volume – in addition to preventing skin cancers and precancers. By their 30s, 40s and 50s, sunscreen users typically look years or even decades younger than their sun-loving counterparts – and this difference becomes more and more obvious as we march further along in life.

So, there may be controversy but to many dermatologists across the world it remains as important, helpful, and relevant as ever for protecting the long-term health and beauty of our skin.