Summer Skin and SPF 101

Aaliya Yaqub, MD
July 15, 2021
3.5 mins

Despite sunny skies during the warmest months of summer, many people forget to apply sunscreen every day and then to reapply it frequently. (Or they may think that sunscreen is unnecessary if skies are cloudy — it definitely is!) 

Although sunlight has many benefits for the body (including being a source of vitamin D and increasing the brain’s release of the feel-good hormone serotonin), it also has dangers that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sun exposure can contribute to the growth and development of skin cancers, which affect more than 5.4 million people a year in the United States alone. 

And skin cancer aside, unprotected exposure to the sun’s rays can have other negative and long-lasting consequences. Thankfully, there are lots of habits and products that can help protect us. 

Understanding Sun Exposure

When the sun’s light shines on our skin, we’re exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Over time, the radiation caused by the sun’s UV rays damages the skin, reducing its elasticity and even triggering mutations that can eventually lead to cancer.

There are two different types of UV rays in sunlight — UVA rays and UVB rays. Protecting against both is key to staving off visible signs of aging and protecting us from skin cancer.

Our Best Tips for Protecting Your Skin This Summer

Sunscreen is the primary way that most people protect their skin from UV rays, but it’s not the only solution. The ideal way to safeguard your skin is to use sunscreen while simultaneously adopting healthier sun habits. Here’s how.

+ Apply SPF every day

Most people, regardless of their skin tone, should be wearing at least SPF 30 sunscreen every single day, 365 days of the year. Regardless of whether you are indoors or outdoors, sunscreen should be daily habit. Get in that habit now, and your skin will thank you later.

+ Not all sunscreens are created equal

There are two major types of sunscreen available today, and each protects skin in a different way.

Mineral sunscreen is made with active ingredients that reflect light off of the skin so it can’t penetrate.

Chemical sunscreen absorbs light and UV rays, and through a chemical reaction turns them into heat, which is released from the skin.

Chemical sunscreens were more popular in the past, but mineral sunscreens are quickly gaining prominence. The active ingredients in mineral sunscreen (zinc oxide and titanium oxide) are generally recognized as safer by the FDA, but they can be harder to rub in and often leave an irritating white cast on the skin. If you can use it, sunscreen with mineral components is what we recommend.

+ Don’t forget to reapply!

Too many people apply sunscreen once and then forget about it for the rest of the day. While sunscreen is effective, it does need to be reapplied to maintain the same level of protection. It’s a good idea to reapply sunscreen every two hours, as well as immediately after leaving the water if you’ve been swimming.

+ Practice good sun habits

Alone, sunscreen can do only so much. To help protect your skin from UV rays, you need to invest in other summer accessories like a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, and you should try to stay in the shade as much as possible. But keep in mind that shade is not full protection: if you are in the shade of an umbrella while sitting by the pool, the sun’s rays may still be reflected onto your skin by the water and by other surfaces. 

+ Also protect yourself indoors

Did you know that UV rays can penetrate most windows? While UVB rays are largely blocked by window glass, roughly 50 percent of UVA rays can still penetrate your home. These rays have been linked to some cases of skin cancer, but they are primarily responsible for signs of premature aging like wrinkles, sunspots, and more. That’s why it’s so important to wear sunscreen every day, even when you’re indoors.

Be Aware of Skin Cancer

Although skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, it remains one of the most treatable — as long as it’s caught early. If a melanoma is detected before it can spread to vulnerable areas like the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is a remarkable 99 percent.

To protect yourself, keep the following warning signs in mind. Many doctors teach the “ABCDE” metric to help people identify worrisome marks on their skin. Any of these signs means you should speak to your healthcare provider.  

     • AAsymmetrical shape

     • B – a border that is uneven or unusual

     • C – more than one color.   

     • D – a mark that is large in diameter, or is darker in color than usual

     • E – any mark that is evolving in shape, size, or behavior.

If you notice something new, unusual, or evolving on your skin, ask a doctor to check it out right away. They can help guide you through the steps of getting it evaluated.

Aaliya Yaqub, MD

Carbon Health’s Medical Director, Enterprise and Strategic Partnerships, Aaliya Yaqub, MD, is a board-certified physician, a skin care and wellness expert, and a healthcare startup entrepreneur. She attended the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Stanford Hospital. She also completed a specialized fellowship in the Department of Dermatology at Stanford where she published groundbreaking research and book chapters on cutaneous fibrosing disorders.