Why Do I Have to Wear Sunscreen?

Baltimore Washington Eye Center, Maryland

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Do I Have to Wear Sunscreen?

Sunscreen acts as a barrier to the harmful UV rays from the sun that can cause damage to the cells in our body. The most important reason to wear sunscreen is to prevent the development of skin cancers, like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, among others.  This is usually enough to convince people to apply sunscreen at the beach, but what about daily sunscreen use. Patients will often tell me, "I never sit in the sun. I don't need to wear sunscreen daily."  The fact is we are exposed to harmful UV rays from the sun every day, regardless of the weather; just because you are not burning does not mean that sun damage is not occurring.   Even driving in your car, you are subject to the glass-penetrating effects of UV rays.  Daily application of a sunscreen is essential in preventing the breakdown of the healthy skin structure.  UV radiation is one of the major creators of free radicals; free radicals cause a breakdown in the cellular structure of the skin. This can lead to age spots, fine lines and wrinkles, and in the worst case, cancer.

It is important to make sure that whichever sunscreen you choose protects you against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin; they are not filtered by glass and the intensity of these rays does not vary based on time of day or time of year. UVB rays cause damage to the outer layers of the skin and these rays are the primary cause of sunburns. Look for sunscreens that have a blocking agent, like zinc oxide or titanium oxide, as these are the best protectors against all UV rays.  Also choose an SPF of at least 15 or more.