Skin cancer is the most common cancer, exceeding 5 million diagnoses and 4-5% of total cancer deaths in the US alone in 2016 and modern research is showing that your skin never recovers from sun damage. So medical professionals are urging us to wear more sunscreen and many are suggesting that you put it on in the morning and re-apply every 2 hours, every single day.
But what would that actually do to you?
But before we get to that, let’s quickly define some important terms. UV radiation is split into UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA makes up 95% of sunlight and has a lower frequency (lower energy) which means it doesn’t cause skin cancer, but can penetrate through glass windows and cause skin aging. UVB is required for Vitamin D production, but is also responsible for most skin cancers. However, it can’t get through windows, so you’re pretty cancer-safe indoors!
However, somewhat counter-intuitively, this actually means that if you’re wearing sunscreen regularly to prevent skin aging, but also want to maintain healthy aspects of sun exposure that we’ll talk about soon, you should probably slip, slop, slap indoors and walk outside completely exposed! (*disclaimer, only recommended for short periods of sun exposure)
Now, back to the topic, what would wearing sunscreen all the time do to you?
Pretty obviously, it’ll decrease your chance of getting skin cancer, specifically, halving your chance of getting melanoma (the most dangerous one) and taking 73% of your chance of other invasive tumors.
You could see also other benefits, such as an improved immune system. You’ll protect important skin proteins such as keratin, elastin and collagen from UVA rays which will prevent skin ageing and limit skin bruising … so maybe there’s something behind all those “weather-beaten faces” that books and movies love to focus on.
What’s more, is that any little bit of sun exposure results in a little bit of skin damage, so you really can’t avoid it unless you’re sunscreened up!
On the flip side, wearing sunscreen 24/7 will probably result in a Vitamin D deficiency, particularly if you have darker skin that takes longer to absorb sunlight. Doctors recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement or dietary equivalent, but research suggests that these aren’t very effective.
This lack of sun exposure could also increase your risk of many other health conditions (multiple cancers, heart disease, fractures, autoimmune disease, type-2 diabetes, depression and other mental health disorders, multiple sclerosis, liver disease, obesity, short-sightedness). The sun even helps with fighting the common cold!
Regardless, if you’re using certain medications that increase sun sensitivity, such as certain antibiotics, antidepressants, acne medications and others, sunscreen is probably a must.
Now, if you pick up this daily sunscreen plan, keep in mind that you have to wear enough. Normally a shot glass worth of sunscreen (45 ml) is adequate to cover your exposed skin. It’ll also be fine to wear just SPF 15 for daily usage (blocks 93% of UV rays), but if you’re out in the sun a lot, head for SPF 30+ that blocks 97%+ of UV rays.
At this rate, you’ll be spending between $20 and $40 per week if you reapply every two hours as recommended. That’s $1000-$2000 per year, not to mention the time and effort to put it on! However, that’s still a lot cheaper than most anti-aging or anti-wrinkle creams and could provide similar benefits for your skin. So if that’s you, go buy sunscreen!
And now you’re probably thinking that at least you don’t have to wear it at night…
Wrong! Cutting-edge research suggests that UV exposure causes melanin to to produce reactive oxygen species that destroy DNA, even up to several hours after exposure. Scientists are then suggesting that we use ‘after-dark’ sunscreens containing antioxidant “quenchers” to prevent this damage by applying after sun exposure. You can identify these sunscreens as probably having one of the following ingredients: Polycrylene, Corapan TQ, Oxynex ST liquid, Tinogard Q, Cibafast or other “quenchers”.
And don’t believe the stories about sunscreen being bad for you. Scientific studies and tests have to be performed before sunscreens can even be marketed and even then, government organisations undertake further tests and scientists have been monitoring long-term effects since sunscreen’s invention 80 years ago! And most of the studies that show supposed negative health effects have author bias against sunscreen or faulty measurement and methodology.
So there are obviously pros and cons to wearing sunscreen every day, but if you do choose to, you’d reduce risk of skin cancer and skin aging, but at the cost of a whole host of other health conditions linked to inadequate sun exposure.