Experts explain why you should still wear sunscreen even though you’re not going outside

Most of us know that we should wear sunscreen every day, but truth be told, most of us decide not to regardless. A new study found that 40% of Americans say they rarely or never wear sunscreen, and more than 70% only wear it in the summer. Even more alarming, 77% said they only reserve sunscreen for certain activities on summer days. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in America, so in the same way that many of us make a conscious decision to stay away from smoking, we should also make an effort to apply sunscreen every day—even if we’re indoors.

While most of the country stays inside to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we must remember that we’re still coming in contact with UV light from the sun via windows, as well as via blue light from our screens and even our lightbulbs. Yes, lightbulbs—LED lightbulbs emit blue light. According to the Australian Cancer Council, “approximately 99% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 95% of melanoma are caused by too much UV radiation from the sun or other sources.” Ellen Marmur, M.D., a dermatologist in New York,  urges people to wear sunscreen inside their houses, as the sun’s harmful UVA/UVB rays are not shielded by glass windows.. This rings especially true for people who already have skin cancer.


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If you’re new to sunscreen or want to try something new, here’s what you need to know. There are two types of sunscreen: chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens sit on top of the skin and absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays; once they’ve absorbed those rays, they create a chemical reaction that turns the UV into heat and releases from the skin. On the other hand, mineral sunscreens absorb into the surface layers of the skin and reflect UV rays off of it. Now, there are two types of UV light: UVA and UVB. UVB light is the one you can feel and it comes from natural sources like the sun are what cause sunburns and are the main source of skin cancer, whereas UVA light comes from both natural sources and LED light and can penetrate deeper layers of the skin and accelerates signs of aging without ever feeling it. Another big difference between the two is that UVA light can go through windows whereas UVB light cannot.

Both types of sunscreen are effective in protecting the skin from UVB light, but mineral sunscreen is effective in protecting skin from both UVA and UVB light. Michelle Henry, M.D., a Manhattan-based dermatologist, recommends using a mineral sunscreen if you have sensitive skin: “Chemical sunscreens absorb light and release it as heat, which is why it sensitizes already sensitive skin [and mineral does not].” Mineral sunscreens have become increasingly popular as ingredients commonly found in chemical sunscreens, like oxybenzone, have been said by some scientists to be hormone disruptors (the FDA is currently reviewing its sunscreen regulations but hasn’t determined anything as of yet).


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Dr. Marmur encourages people to wear full-body sunscreen, too.  “I always tell my patients never to forget about the small parts of your body like eyelids, ears, and toes. The only way sunscreen can be effective is if it’s applied correctly,” she says. Plus, not all clothing is UV protective, so that’s why some people may still get sunburns when fully clothed. To prevent that, you can use a UV protectant laundry wash to sun-proof your clothing, but you should still use a body sunscreen to be extra safe.


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Dr. Henry also points out that because of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re moving into face mask culture, and as such, we should remember to put sunscreen on our whole face if we need to step outside to run an errand. “Some people may only put it on the visible area, but remember that not all masks are tested to be UV protective, so make sure you don’t neglect those areas that we now have to cover,” she says.

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