What Happens to Your Skin When You Skip Sunscreen

May 27, 2022
By: Jackie Burns Brisman | skincare.com by L'Oréal
person holding sunscreen tube

Just because you can get away with spending a full day outside without getting a sunburn doesn’t mean you don’t have to wear SPF. Sunburns aren’t the end-all be-all when it comes to sun damage. In fact, it’s prolonged, unprotected exposure to the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays that can cause some serious consequences no matter your skin type or skin color. To find out what happens when you skip sunscreen, we turned to board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com expert Dr. Lisa Ginn.

Skipping Sunscreen Can Lead to Skin Cancer

Before understanding the consequences of skipping sunscreen, it’s important to note how UV radiation works and affects the skin. UV radiation ranges from a wavelength of 100 to 400 nanometers. “UVA and UVB rays are somewhere in the 300 to 400 range,” Dr. 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 often has a high survival rate, melanoma does not. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “melanoma accounts for less than 1% of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.”

Dr. Ginn says that this research is what caused there to be a higher priority on UVA protection and the reason why you should always look for “broad-spectrum” (which means it offers protection against both UVB and UVA rays) on the label of your sunscreen. If you need a recommendation, we love the Lancôme UV Expert Aquagel Defense 50 Sunscreen, which is an all-in-one, oil-free face primer and moisturizer with SPF 50 that gives long-lasting hydration and helps protect the skin from sun damage. We also love the La Roche Posay Anthelios UV Correct Face Sunscreen SPF 70.

Skipping Sunscreen Can Also Cause Wrinkles, Fine Lines and Dark Spots

Another less serious but concerning side effect of skipping sunscreen is premature signs of aging. In fact, Dr. Ginn says that whenever she sees patients come in who claim they don’t need sunscreen, she makes a bargain with them. If she can tell them whether or not they drive to work, are passengers, or commute by train just by looking at their skin, then 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 — think: wrinkles, fine lines and dark spots.

la roche posay anthelios uv correct face sunscreen spf 70

“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.”

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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