• Scotia Ouellette and Sofia Magno

Why Sunscreen is Important to Everyone

Summertime is filled with the scent of sunscreen, along with the constant reminders to reapply every few hours. Some people ignore those reminders because their skin may not burn as easily as some of their friends or they might be trying to acquire a tan. Regardless, we all should be wearing sunscreen every day, no matter the lack of clouds. The UV rays emitted from the sun are stronger than we think and can harm anyone.

What are UV rays?

The sun emits Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, 80% of which reaches the earth. There are two types of UV rays that we come in contact with, Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB). It is imperative that we protect ourselves from both UVA and UVB, as they are associated with causing premature skin aging, sunburn, and skin cancer. In addition, the rays can even cause eye damage and weaken our immune system. These powerful rays are able to reach all the way into the DNA located inside your cells. This makes UV rays very dangerous because they can cause either small temporary damage or drastic, and possibly life-threatening, damage to our health. There is a misconception that tanning beds are safer since you’re not under the sun’s UV rays. However, tanning beds use UV rays, just like the ones we receive outside, thus putting us at the same risk as being outside. Now, this does not mean that you cannot and should not go outside without being fully covered. Luckily, by using sunscreen, we can protect our skin from harmful UV rays.

What is sunscreen?

Sunscreen products reflect, absorb, or scatter sunlight. When applied, the chemicals inside sunscreen work with your skin to protect it from UV rays. All over-the-counter sunscreen products are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When looking at sunscreens, it is important to consider the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) labeled on the product. There are a variety of different types of SPF to choose from such as 15, 30, or 45. So which one should you pick? An SPF number indicates how long the UVB rays of the sun would take to redden, or burn, your skin when you apply that specific sunscreen than if you did not apply any sunscreen. For example, using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would mean that it would take the UVB rays 15 times longer to burn your skin than if you did not apply sunscreen at all.

Why do we need it?

Sunscreen helps protect you from more than just a sunburn. The most significant being skin cancer. Anyone can develop skin cancer regardless of their age, gender, or race. In fact, approximately 1 in 5 Americans develop skin cancer in their lifetime. There are numerous different types of skin cancer that can develop from UV rays, most commonly basal cell and squamous cell cancers. Basal cell cancer occurs from UV rays triggering a change in basal cells, located on the top layer of your skin, to grow uncontrollably. While squamous cell cancer is also caused by UV rays and the cells are located on the top of your skin, these cells become abnormal which prompts cancer. If caught early, both cancers are very curable. However, the most dangerous type of skin cancer is melanoma. While only accounting for 3% of skin cancer cases, melanoma makes up over 75% of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers found in people aged 15-29. What makes melanoma so fatal is when it spreads to the rest of your organs, such as your lymph nodes. At that stage, it is still possible to treat and cure melanoma, but it can be very difficult. To prevent melanoma from becoming fatal, you should watch for unusual looking moles or growths, such as the ones pictured. For spots that are harder to see, ask your doctor or dermatologist to take a look and be sure to show them any suspicious-looking areas you’ve found yourself.

Melanin is composed of molecules that result in the pigmentation (color) of skin and hair and help our bodies naturally block out UV rays. However, we all have differing amounts of melanin. In short, people with fair skin have less melanin than people with darker skin, thus varying the amount of natural protection people have from the sun. We often see people with fairer skin applying sunscreen more often because they have less melanin than those with darker skin, less natural protection from the UV rays, resulting in their easier ability to burn. In addition to their easier ability to burn, people with fairer skin also have an increased risk of developing melanoma compared to someone with darker skin. Keep in mind, skin cancers like melanoma can develop on anyone regardless of skin color and if not caught fast enough can result in death. This is why it is vital for everyone to apply sunscreen even if one does not burn as easily as others or has a darker complexion.

Sunscreen doesn’t just stop at protecting you from sunburn and skin cancers, it also deflects UV rays that can result in accelerated skin aging, known as photoaging. Its effects may not be able to be visible at eighteen but will accumulate over our lifetime from our time in the sun. Photoaging appears as wrinkles, fine lines, pigmentation, dark spots, etc. Photoaging is different from chronological skin aging which occurs naturally with age. The main difference is that photoaging can be preventable whereas chronological aging is not. The way to prevent photoaging is quite simple, sunscreen. Often called the secret to anti-aging, sunscreen prevents photoaging by creating a barrier between your skin and UV rays. It is recommended that everyone uses a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 daily to maintain healthy skin.


Sunscreen is essential for your body and skin’s welfare. UV rays from the sun cause skin damage every time you're outside, even if one’s skin does not burn. It is important to keep in mind that everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer. Even on cloudy days, UV still reaches our skin and can cause harm. Dermatologists recommend an SPF 30 sunscreen for everyday application on areas of skin that will not be covered.

Things to Remember

  • Always check the expiration date for your sunscreen. Using expired sunscreen will result in a decreased effectiveness of the sunscreen, thus leading to skin damage such as burns, premature aging, and even cancer.

  • The higher the SPF does not mean that it will last longer than a lower SPF. SPF 15 and SPF 55 have the same time of effectiveness. If SPF 15 lasts for an hour so will SPF 55. The difference is in how much more protection you need during that hour. If you burn more easily, you may want to try a higher SPF to decrease your chances of sunburn during that hour of effectiveness.

  • All sunscreens will eventually fall off, even if they claim to be water-resistant. It’s important to reapply at least every two hours.

  • It’s extremely important to apply sunscreen when outside with snow, water, or sand. These all reflect the sun’s rays and increase the need to protect your skin.


American Cancer Society Medical and Editorial Content Team. (2019, July 10). Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/uv-radiation.html

American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.). Sunscreen FAQs. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs

Grabel, A. (2019, January 10). Photoaging: What You Need to Know About the Other Kind of Aging. Skin Cancer Foundation. https://www.skincancer.org/blog/photoaging-what-you-need-to-know/

Halpern, A. C., Marghoob, A. A., & Reiter, O. (2019, April). Melanoma Overview. The Skin Cancer Foundation. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma/

Karen, J. K., & Moy, R. L. (2019, May). Basal Cell Carcinoma Overview. The Skin Cancer Foundation. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/basal-cell-carcinoma/

Hale, E. K., & Hanke, W. (2019, May). Squamous Cell Carcinoma Overview. The Skin Cancer Foundation. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/squamous-cell-carcinoma/

Richard, E. G. (2019, June). All About Sunscreen. Skin Cancer Foundation. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/#who

Chien, A., & Jacobe, H. (2019, June). UV Radiation & Your Skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation. https://www.skincancer.org/risk-factors/uv-radiation/#:%7E:text=UV%20exposure%20is%20a%20powerful,t%20repair%20all%20of%20it.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2019, November 21). Health Effects of UV Radiation. https://www.epa.gov/sunsafety/health-effects-uv-radiation

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, March 10). Melanoma - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/melanoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20374884

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, April 9). Sun Safety | Skin Cancer | CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm

Schlessinger, D. I., Schlessinger, J., & Anoruo, M. D. (2020, July 10). Biochemistry, Melanin. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459156/

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