Molly is a junior in her second year in journalism. She manages the varsity football team on the side and enjoys cooking and baking.
Why Sunscreen Could Save Your Life
May 18, 2022
“Oh my gosh, do I have to wear sunscreen?…I want to get a tan, plus it won’t do any damage… Please don’t make me put it on.”
You’ve probably heard statements like these (and maybe even said some of them yourself) when summer rolls around and you’re at the beach, pool, or just outside. However, the fact is that not wearing sunscreen can cause skin cancer, and definitely will cause damage to your skin. And while it may take years to appear, once the damage is done, it’s done.
According to The American Cancer Society, about 2,000 people a year die from skin cancer, just in the United States. Skin Cancer.org notes that approximately one in five people will get skin cancer by the age of 70, and that an average of two or more people in America die from skin cancer every hour. In fact, they note that in the United States, more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.
Why Sunscreen Makes a Difference
Sunscreen can literally be a life-saver. Say you don’t wear sunscreen at all for an entire summer. You may have a really nice tan. But even if you never get a single burn, in as little as a decade you could regret that time not wearing sunscreen because sun damage is cumulative and the effects often don’t show up for years. The damage may be as mild as brown sunspots which appear on your face or other parts of your body (and which are very difficult and costly to remove), or as serious as melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer.
While the best way to protect yourself against skin cancer and sun damage is to not be in the sun, that’s not practical. Plus, being in the sun at least 20 minutes each day can be helpfull because it increases your Vitamin D levels which have been proven to be beneficial. So wearing sunscreen when you’ll be in the sun is important.
Types of Sunscreen: Non-Mineral vs. Mineral
Sunscreens come in SPF ( Sun Protection Factor) ratings of 15 to 100. In general, the higher the SPF, the better protected and longer protected you’ll be. Sunscreens fall into two basic categories: mineral sunscreens and non-mineral sunscreens. According to Dermae.com, “Non-mineral sunscreen active ingredients are Octocrylene, Octisalate and Avobenzone. These ingredients create a non-physical barrier between you and the sun by absorbing UV radiation, taking about 20 to 30 minutes to go into effect.”
The potential problem with non-mineral sunscreens is that they often contain chemicals, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, or avobenzone which cause harm to coral reefs. Some studies show they may also enter the bloodstream where they may potentially cause cancer. In addition, they take 15-20 minutes to absorb into the skin, meaning that if you are out in the sun and then put on sunscreen, you won’t be protected right away.
As a result, more and more companies are creating mineral sunscreens which use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to block the sun. Unlike non-mineral sunscreens, they work immediately by creating a barrier to the sun, and they do not enter your blood stream and are generally considered safer for coral reefs and ocean life. The only drawback is that they sometimes leave a white cast on your skin.
When to Wear Sunscreen
Obviously, you’ll think of wearing sunscreen on a hot, sunny day, but even when it’s cloudy, you can still get burned. So wear sunscreen, even when the clouds are out. Another thing to be aware of is even if you plan on staying under a tent or getting in the water, light-colored objects like sand and swimming pools with white bottoms, reflect the sun. So even in those cases you still need to put on sunscreen, because the sun can bounce off the water or surface and give you a burn.
If you travel closer to the equator or to higher altitudes, you need to wear sunscreen that has a high SPF. According to Rocky Mountain Urgent Care, it is much easier to burn in places with a higher elevation since the sun’s rays have less air to travel through. Places like Mexico, Hawaii, or Tahiti, which are much closer to the equator, are also more likely to result in having a really painful sunburn. According to Vox.com, “The more direct the sunlight in your area is, the greater the dose– so in general, the closer to the equator you are, the greater the chance of sunburn. It’s also much higher during summer, and between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, peaking at mid-day.”