From painful sunburns to skin cancer, sun exposure can wreak havoc on your skin. Fortunately, you can protect yourself against the sun’s rays by applying sunscreen every day. Sunscreen can shield your skin cells from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Below, we’ll explain how sunscreen works and why you should wear it daily. We’ll also highlight four powerful benefits of sunscreen.
How sunscreen works
You've been advised that wearing sunscreen can be of great benefit, like preventing exposure to harmful UV rays and skin damage. But how does sunscreen work exactly to maintain your healthy skin? Sunscreen protects your skin by preventing ultraviolet radiation from penetrating your skin. UV radiation may lead to the development of suntans, sunburns, hyperpigmentation, premature aging, or skin cancer. While having sunkissed tan skin might be fun, early skin aging, a painful sunburn, and a potential chance of developing skin cancer aren't fun at all. Fortunately, sunscreen can prevent some of these skin issues.
There are two types of sunscreens that work in slightly different ways:
Chemical sunscreens – Chemical sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb UV rays, preventing them from penetrating your skin. You must apply chemical sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going into the sun, since it takes time for the chemicals to absorb into your skin.
Chemical sunscreens are often lighter and more translucent than physical sunscreens. However, they must be applied more frequently, since their chemicals can only absorb a limited amount of UV radiation. Unfortunately, some people may find chemical sunscreens irritating to the skin.
Physical sunscreens – Physical sunscreens contain minerals, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These minerals serve as a shield for your skin by reflecting away any incoming UV rays.
Physical sunscreens typically last longer than chemical sunscreens, since they don’t have to absorb any UV rays. They’re also less likely to cause skin irritation than their chemical counterparts. However, physical sunscreens may be harder to blend into the skin, due to their thick, opaque formulation.Nonetheless, physical sunscreen will provide more protection against harmful sun rays than no sunscreen at all.
How sunscreen works to protect your skin
Both chemical and physical sunscreens can help prevent skin damage by blocking harmful UV rays.
There are two types of UV rays that can harm your skin: UVA rays and UVB rays:
UVA – UVA rays are the most abundant type of UV rays. They make up 95 percent of the Earth’s UV radiation. UVA rays are known for their long wavelength, which enables them to permeate deeply into the skin. As a result, UVA exposure can lead to the development of skin cancer and premature aging.
The intensity of UVA rays remains the same throughout the day. UVA rays can also penetrate through windows and clouds, putting you at risk when you’re indoors or outside on a gloomy day.
UVB – UVB rays only penetrate the outermost layers of the skin due to their short wavelength. UVB rays are primarily responsible for the development of suntans and sunburns. In severe cases, unprotected UVB exposure may even cause blistering.
The intensity of UVB rays can fluctuate throughout the day. UVB rays are typically the most intense in the middle of the day when the sunshine is strongest. Luckily, UVB rays can’t penetrate glass, so you don’t need to worry about them when you’re inside.
As you can see, exposure to UVA and UVB rays can have a host of health impacts. That’s why shielding yourself with high-quality sunscreen is so important.
What is SPF?
Sun protection factor (SPF) is a number that lets you know how long and how well a sunscreen blocks UVB rays.
For instance, let’s say you normally start burning after 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure. If you apply an SPF 30 sunscreen, you can extend that time by up to a factor of 30. As a result, you may be able to enjoy up to 300 minutes of sunshine before getting burnt.
Why is SPF important?
It’s important to understand SPF because it lets you know:
How often you need to reapply your sunscreen – Sunscreens with lower SPFs need to be reapplied more often than those with higher SPFs. Choosing a higher SPF sunscreen can save you from the hassle of needing to reapply more frequently.
How well you’re protected – SPF count is also correlated with how much UV protection you’ll receive. Here’s a breakdown of the percentage of UV protection you can expect from the following SPFs:
As you can see, higher SPF offers more protection, but the differential in protection decreases the higher you go. Thus, SPF 30 is nearly just as effective as SPF 100.
What to look for in a good sunscreen?
Not all sunscreens are created equal. Some sunscreens offer more comprehensive protection than others.
Here are a few features to look for in a high-quality sunscreen:
High SPF – As we just discussed, SPF is an important factor to consider when selecting a sunscreen. For daily use, you should look for a sunscreen that boasts an SPF of at least 15. If you have fair skin or a family history of skin cancer, SPF 30 is even better.
Broad-spectrum protection – SPF only describes a sunscreen’s UVB protection. However, UVA rays are just as harmful, if not more so. Sunscreens that boast broad-spectrum protection are verified by the FDA to offer proportional protection from both UVB and UVA rays.
Water resistance – If you plan to wear your sunscreen in the water, it’s a good idea to look for one that advertises water resistance. Water-resistant sunscreen can protect you for up to 80 minutes in the water. Just make sure to reapply as soon as you get out and dry off.
Why should you use sunscreen every day?
Now that you know how sunscreen works, let’s review four compelling benefits of wearing sunscreen daily.
#1 To reduce your risk of skin cancer
The most significant reason to wear sunscreen every day is to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Roughly 90% of skin cancers are caused by UV exposure.
While most skin cancers have a high survival rate, melanoma can be deadly. Protecting yourself from the sun is one of the most effective ways to lower your risk of developing skin cancer.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen daily can cut your chances of developing melanoma by 50 percent.
#2 To prevent painful sunburns
Skin cancer may be a long-term risk of unprotected sun exposure, but sunburns can start to develop in as little as 11 minutes. After a few hours, your burnt skin may turn red and become sore to the touch. Painful sunburns can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to heal.
Fortunately, sunscreen can protect your skin from getting burnt and save you from the resulting discomfort and discoloration.
#3 To maintain your youthful glow
We all want to age gracefully. Unfortunately, the sun has other plans. It’s estimated that up to 90% of visible signs of aging are due to sun damage.
If you want to avoid fine lines, crow’s feet, and sagging skin, sunscreen can help. If you’re curious about how to prevent aging, applying sunscreen every day has been shown to keep skin radiant and healthy for years to come.
#4 To avoid hyperpigmentation
From liver spots to melasma, many people develop hyperpigmentation after prolonged sun exposure. Hyperpigmentation refers to small spots or blotches that are darker than the rest of your skin.
Having an uneven skin tone may not be dangerous like skin cancer, but it can affect your confidence in your appearance.
Many forms of hyperpigmentation are caused or made worse by sun exposure. Instead of browsing the sea of options to answer how to treat hyperpigmentation on the face, using preventive care in the first place is the best option. Thus, you can preserve the evenness of your complexion by applying sunscreen daily, rain or shine.
Pairing vitamin C and sunscreen in your skincare routine can also provide great benefits and increase the efficacy of sunscreen.
When to wear sunscreen?
You may assume that you only need to wear sunscreen when you plan to be outside, but this isn't the case. You may be exposed to UVA and UVB radiation in a variety of unexpected situations.
As a result, you should wear sunscreen:
While you’re indoors – Since UVA rays can penetrate glass, you may be exposed to them even while you’re inside your house or driving in your car.
On cloudy days – Clouds can provide you with some shade, but they aren’t as effective at blocking UV rays as you may think. Up to 80% of the sun’s UV radiation can penetrate through clouds. As a result, it’s a good idea to wear sunscreen regardless of the weather conditions.
In the snow – If you enjoy skiing or snowboarding in the wintertime, wearing SPF is crucial. The snow can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays, amplifying your risk of sun damage while you’re on the slopes.
Since UV rays are always around, it’s important to apply sunscreen every day for optimal protection.
So be sure to apply sunscreen all over for the best protection. When it comes to applying it to your face, you can either apply it after the final step in your skincare routine order or find a moisturizer that contains sunscreen for easy one-step application.
The Pill Club: Protect your skin from sun damage today
Whether you want to protect against skin cancer or prevent premature aging, there are many reasons to include sunscreen in your daily routine.
If you’re searching for the best sunscreen, The Pill Club can help. Our Dermatology Care Team can match you with the right products to support your skin’s unique needs. If you have insurance, our skincare can cost as low as $0.
At The Pill Club, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Articles are written by experienced contributors; they are grounded in research and evidence-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and extensively reviewed by our team of experts to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.