It wasn’t all that long ago that tanning was thought to be safe, and having a tan was described as having a ‘healthy glow.’ Nowadays, we know how dangerous tanning is (yes, even in tanning beds!), and for the most part, American’s have swapped their bottles of tanning oil for SPF 15. But did you know that the harmful UV rays that make tanning so dangerous are present year-round- even on the coldest or cloudiest of days? In fact, it only takes about 15 minutes of sun exposure to get a sunburn. That’s about how long it takes to take your dog for a walk, and eleven minutes less than the average American’s commute to work! Don’t think because you’re in your car you’re, safe, either- you can easily get a sunburn driving, even with the windows up!
What makes sun exposure so dangerous is the ultraviolet light the sun emits. This radiation has gotten worse in recent years due to the weakening of the ozone layer, which acts as a filter between the sun and these ultraviolet rays. Unfortunately, as the ozone layer depletes, more ultraviolet light gets through, increasing the harmful effects of the sun on our skin. This light damages the fibers of our skin, which are known as ‘elastin.’ Elastin is what makes our skin ‘bounce back’ when we pinch or pull it. When we lose elastin, our skin begins to lose its elasticity, causing it stretch and sag. It can also cause the skin to bruise and tear more easily, making it take longer to heal cuts and scrapes. What’s more, exposure to these dangerous ultraviolet rays can also cause everything from sun spots, to premature wrinkles, to melanoma - the most fatal form of skin cancer.
You’ve probably heard about melanoma in the news a lot in recent years because cases of melanoma are on the incline- and though melanoma only accounts for less than 1% of all skin cancers, it is responsible for 75% of all skin cancer deaths. In fact, one person dies from Melanoma every 52 minutes in the United States - that’s about 28 people a day! Melanoma is difficult to keep under control, left untreated, it can spread throughout the body to other organs, which is why early detection is key. For those who are fortunate enough to survive melanoma, most are left with considerable scarring, because most of the time melanoma must be physically removed from the body by cutting the melanoma out of the skin, along with some of the surrounding, healthy skin and tissue.
So, what can you do to protect your skin from the sun? First of all, protect yourself in the sun, year-round. Don’t think that just because it’s winter, you can’t get a sunburn or that because it’s cold outside the sun’s UV rays aren’t dangerous. For those who participate in winter sports like skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing, be especially wary of the sun’s rays, as they are often actually more dangerous during the winter thanks to the light reflecting off the snow. This is because snow can reflect almost 90% of UV radiation, increasing the risk of burning on areas like your chin and nose. Also, if you’re at a higher elevation, like the top of a mountain, the air is thinner, which means you are exposed to more radiation than you might be at a lower elevation. Even just a quick trip to work, the grocery store, or to run to your mailbox exposes your skin to UV radiation- which is why we recommend you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen or sunblock, such as Zo Skin Health's Oclipse C Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF50 year round. The abbreviation SPF means "sun protection factor"- or more specifically, protection from the specific UVB rays that cause your skin to sunburn. The numbers associated with different SPF’s describe how many times more protected your skin is than if you are wearing no sun protection at all. So, for example, when you apply an SPF 15 sunblock, your skin is 15 times more protected than it would be with no sunscreen and will take 15 times longer to burn. So if it normally takes you 15 minutes of sun exposure before you burn, an SPF 15 will provide you 225 minutes of protection before needing to be reapplied (and yes, you do need to reapply! Another big difference between sunscreens are the differences in normal vs. broad spectrum sunscreens. Broad spectrum means that your sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. Most sunscreens only protect against UVB rays, which are the ones that cause sunburn, but UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, damaging tissue and eventually causing wrinkles.