Wearing sunscreen, also known as sunblock, benefits your health in several ways. By protecting you from harmful radiation from the sun, sunscreen reduces your risk for skin cancer, premature aging and sunburns. You can optimize your protection by choosing the right sunscreen, wearing it regularly and using it as directed.
Skin Cancer Prevention
Sunscreen protects your skin from the sun's ultraviolet, or UV, rays. Two types of UV rays, known as UVA and UVB, trigger harmful changes in your skin. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA rays account for up to 95 percent of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the Earth's surface. Although UVB rays are less prevalent, they also cause skin damage. Both UVA and UVB rays contribute to the development of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone -- regardless of skin color -- protect their skin by wearing sunscreen. Protection from UV rays is important all year round, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Premature Aging Prevention
Wearing sunscreen regularly helps prevent premature aging. The authors of a June 2013 article published in the "Annals of Internal Medicine" reported on a study comparing recommended daily use of sunscreen versus discretionary use in people younger than 55. At the conclusion of the 4.5-year study, the researchers found 24 percent less skin aging in the group advised to use sunscreen daily compared to the group using sunscreen at their own discretion. Aging was measured by lines and coarseness of the skin. Wearing sunscreen also helps prevent age spots, according to the National Institute on Aging.
The skin reddening, swelling and peeling of a sunburn reflect widespread damage to your skin cells in response to prolonged exposure to UV rays. A sunburn can occur after time in the sun or exposure to UV rays from a tanning bed. Sunburns -- especially those severe enough to cause blistering -- can cause permanent skin damage that increases your risk for skin cancer. A research report published in August 2008 in the "Annals of Epidemiology" noted that each severe sunburn throughout life increases the risk for melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen prevents sunburns and the associated long-term side effects.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen
In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released new regulations for sunscreen labels. The American Cancer Society explains that you should look for a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum UV coverage and has a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 15. In addition, refer to the label to find whether you must reapply the product every 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. Sunscreen doesn't block the sun or last for more than 2 hours. By carefully reading the label on a product, you can select the best sunscreen to protect your skin.
- Skin Cancer Foundation: Understanding UVA and UVB
- Skin Cancer Foundation: Skin Cancer and Skin of Color
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Skin Cancer Prevention
- Annals of Internal Medicine: Sunscreen and Prevention on Skin Aging
- National Institute on Aging: Skin Care and Aging
- Annals of Epidemiology: Sunburns and Risk of Cutaneous Melanoma -- Does Age Matter -- A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis
Based in San Francisco, Laura Lu is a New York Times published author who has written about health since 2007. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and public relations and a Master of Science in health communication from Chapman University.