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A Dermatologist Explains: Why Is It So Important To Wear a Sunscreen This Summer?


Vogue Arabia, April 2019. Photo: Kat Irlin

As warmer, sunnier days descend, it’s only natural to want to bound out of the house for some fresh air without sunscreen. But it’s because we’ve been spending excess time indoors all winter that it’s especially essential to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Year-round, sunscreen is the most effective way to shield skin from cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation, as well as premature aging, which is the primary cause of fine lines, deeper wrinkles, blotchiness, discoloration, and textural abnormalities. “We are increasingly seeing skin cancer in younger individuals,” cautions New York City dermatologist Julie Karen, MD. “If that doesn’t convince someone to protect themselves, then we can rightfully appeal to their vanity. The sun is responsible for 90% of the visible changes we see within the skin that are often attributed to aging.”

As if the most common science-backed truths are not enough of an impetus, let this sink in: “Fresh off of winter, our skin has diminished capacity to protect itself from damaging UV rays, which are becoming ever stronger,” explains Dr. Karen. Moreover, there are specific skin reactions that can happen during early summer with the first exposure to ultraviolet radiation, such as polymorphous light eruption (or PMLE), a reaction of sun sensitivity that happens when our skin is not exposed to the sun for long periods of time. “It can manifest in different ways, but is typically a itchy red rash that appears on sun-exposed areas that have been recently exposed, typically at the beginning of summer,” explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, at the Mount Sinai department of Dermatology. “We don’t know why some people are more prone to this, but most people are likely to experience some form of increased sensitivity to sunlight after the wintertime.”

The first step to ensuring you’re doing the utmost to safeguard your skin during this especially vulnerable time? Stock up on a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher. “If you’ve been relying on your makeup for protection, that won’t fly anymore,” says Dr. Karen, emphasizing that SPF-laced makeup or facial moisturizer must be layered on top of a layer of sunscreen. Apply your sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside, and remember: You need to reapply it every two hours, or sooner if you’re perspiring or swimming.

“Always remember the sunscreen that you will use is the one that is going to be most effective!” Dr. Karen adds. When it comes to choosing a formula, it’s important to consider the sensitivity of your skin, particularly when deciding between a chemical sunscreen and a physical sunscreen. “Although both can be incredibly effective, chemical sunscreens can be somewhat more irritating to sensitive skin,” explains Dr. Nazarian. “Physical sunscreens are a bit more stable, but are also a little more occlusive and can trap heat, so it may feel a little heavier than the chemical sunscreens.”

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