What Happens To Your Skin When You Skip Sunscreen
Here’s the deal, just because you don’t burn in the sun, doesn’t give you a hall pass when it comes to sunscreen. Sunburns aren’t the be-all end-all when it comes to the damage that can occur to your skin—ranging from superficial to serious—during prolonged, unprotected exposure to the sun’s UV rays. To discover what happens when you skip sunscreen, we turned to board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com expert, Dr. Lisa Ginn. Think you’re exempt from using SPF? Think again.
Skipping Sunscreen Consequence #1: Skin Cancers
A little lesson on the light spectrum: UV radiation ranges from a wavelength of 100 to 400 nanometers. “Somewhere in the 300-400 range are UVA and UVB rays,” Ginn explains. “Sunscreens were originally invented for UVB rays, because we suspected for years that these rays caused sun damage in the form of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (two forms of skin cancer). A few years ago, research showed that UVA rays, the rays that we held responsible for wrinkles and dramatic skin aging, were also causing melanoma.” While non-melanoma skin cancer (which affects nearly 5.4 million Americans each year) often has a high survival rate, melanoma does not. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “melanoma accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.” Ginn says that this research is what caused everyone to place a higher priority on UVA protection. This is the reason why you should always look for broad-spectrum on the label of your sunscreen, which means it offers protection against both UVB and UVA rays.
“No matter what your ethnicity, sunscreen is important,” Ginn says. While she explains that the fairer your skin, the greater your risk of developing skin cancer—especially if you have a family history of skin cancer—this is often something fair-skinned people are well aware of, causing them to use SPF early and often to protect themselves. Olive and darker skin tones, on the flip side, fall into the spectrum of people who may think, if they don’t burn, they don’t need sunscreen. “Unfortunately," she says, "often by the time we catch skin cancer on patients with this skin color, it’s too late.”
Sunscreen doesn’t just have medicinal purposes, it also has cosmetic benefits. It’s one of your greatest tools in an anti-aging arsenal.
Skipping Sunscreen Consequence #2: Wrinkles, Fine Lines, Dark Spots
Serious side effects aside, skipping sunscreen has superficial consequences as well, even if you don’t spend much time outside. Dr. Ginn—who practices just outside Washington, DC—says she sees many patients come in who claim they don’t need sunscreen and she makes a bargain with them. If she can tell them whether or not they drive to work, are passengers, or commute by Metro, just by looking at their skin, they have to start slathering on the SPF. She’s almost always right. The side of your face that is subjected to the most sunlight (yes, even through the windows in your car and office) will show signs of sun damage in the form of accelerated skin aging—read: wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots. “Sunscreen doesn’t just have medicinal purposes, it also has cosmetic benefits,” she says. “It’s one of your greatest tools in an anti-aging arsenal.”