Yes, You Should Wear Sunscreen in Winter & 5 Other Sunscreen Myths Busted

First off, I need to apologize for the slightly aggressive title. But “you should probably wear sunscreen in winter according to this random beauty blogger aka me” isn’t quite as catchy or SEO friendly.

As you probably guessed, today’s post is about sunscreen myths. In the beauty community there are two extreme caricatures painted in regards to sunscreen. Those who are vampiric in nature, fear windows, hiss at at the sun, and obsessively time their sunscreen reapplications down to the second. Then there are those who are all the way on the opposite end of the spectrum who think sunscreen is for suckers and baking in the sun for a bit is nbd. But people, we can have a reasonable middle ground!

Sunscreen is good. We don’t have to obsess about it. We can have a healthy respect for it.

As always, I want to put out the disclaimer that I’m not a doctor— just a blogger who loves googling all the things.

sunscreen for winter

It’s a good idea to wear sunscreen in the winter & when it’s snowing, raining, hailing, etc.

Not as aggressive of a headline, but the message rings true. Just cause you can’t see the sun, doesn’t mean you aren’t being exposed to UV rays! Clouds do not indicate a lack of UVA/ UVB rays (aka rays that sunscreen protects us against— both can lead to premature photoaging + skin cancer.) While UVB rays are more present in the summer, UVA rays are pretty constant year round and can penetrate glass and clouds. My dermatologists have always recommended sunscreen as a year long commitment, and a quick google search will give you plenty of derms who agree.

Another reason to wear sunscreen year round is because your skin might be photosensitive (aka more likely to get burned/ irritated by the sun) due to skincare actives. If you use skincare products containing glycolic acid, lactic acid, benzoyl peroxide, certain essential oils, etc., then sunscreen is a must to prevent unnecessary damage. Some oral supplements and medications can also cause photosensitivity— including birth control. So even if the UV index is low, your skin could be more sensitive to burning and irritation because of said photosensitive ingredients.

Also worth noting, most of these ingredients make your skin photosensitive for a period of time after application. For instance, you can apply a glycolic acid toner at night, but your skin will still be photosensitive the next morning.

And for argument’s sake, let’s say there’s a low UV index and you happen to be exposed to minimal UV rays and your skin isn’t photosensitive and you don’t have a predisposition to skin cancer. You still aren’t losing anything by applying sunscreen.

Lack of sunburn doesn’t indicate lack of sun damage (and yes that includes us brown & black people!!)

When I was younger, I didn’t think I needed to wear sunscreen because I seldom got sunburn. Jokes on me cause a lot of sun damage isn’t visible. You could never be sunburnt but still get melanoma (aka the most serious type of skin cancer.)

While it is true that skin cancer rates for POC are lower than skin cancer rates for Caucasians, there could be other factors affecting that statistic. Lack of awareness + diagnoses, lower access to care, lack of documentation, etc all impact the incidence rates recorded. Furthermore, when skin cancer is found in POC, it’s usually at a later stage meaning the necessary treatment is more aggressive and the success rate lower. Moral of the story: melanin alone is not gonna protect you from the sun.

On a more cosmetic note (which I’ll get into more down below), photoaging doesn’t happen immediately. You won’t go into the sun unprotected one day and come down with wrinkles the next day. The effects are cumulative and develop over time. Take that infamous photo of a 69 year old truck driver— the side with significantly more sagging and wrinkles was the one where he was getting unprotected, prolonged sun exposure. Those are the long-term effects of photoaging.

Sunscreen drops are a scam & also, please don’t mix bronzer/ foundation into your sunscreen

A scam, I tell you! I was skeptical when I first heard the words “sunscreen” and “drops” put together, but what really cemented it is Michelle (aka Lab Muffin)’s post— she goes into the full details on why sunscreen drops simply don’t work. She has all the scientific deets (but in a user friendly way) in her post but the takeaway is that they’re inefficient for two main reasons.

When you dilute the drops, you’re diluting the amount of sun protection you get. In addition, most people probably aren’t using enough product in the first place to get the protection advertised on the bottle. The combo of a few drops + moisturizer is barely going to provide you any sunscreen protection. The second major issue with these drops/ mixing other products into your sunscreen is that that the final mixture provides inconsistent sun protection because your naked eye can’t tell if the products are mixed evenly or not.

SO please, save your coin and skip the $145 SPF drops (not including tax!)

Tinted moisturizer/ bb cream/ foundation do not provide sufficient sun protection

Sorry not sorry, but your $50 SPF 15 foundation ain’t protecting shit. You have to thoroughly cake on product to get the amount of protection advertised on the bottle. As Michelle stated in her post, the amount of sun protection you get is linearly related to the amount you apply. So for instance, you would need to apply the standard 1/4 tsp (standard dosage for sunscreen so to say) to get SPF 15 protection from your foundation. But if you only applied half that, you would be getting the protection of approximately SPF 7.5. Even then, how many of us are applying 1/8 of a teaspoon of foundation? I know I’m not!

To add, the recommended minimum SPF to protect you from photoaging and cancer by the American Academy of Dermatology is SPF 30.

Using sunscreen won’t automatically lead to vitamin D deficiency

Coming from someone who has a vitamin D deficiency and at a time was taking a prescription strength supplement, the first thing I asked my doctor was “uhh… did my sunscreen cause this?” Her answer was nope! After I did some digging on my own, I found some sources that back her statement up, like from the Skin Cancer Foundation. There have been no clinical studies showing a link between everyday sunscreen use and vitamin D deficiency, furthermore there have been studies that show the opposite— people who regularly wear sunscreen *can* maintain healthy vitamin D levels.

To simplify things, we get vitamin D from two sources— our diet and when we’re exposed to the sun and our body converts a protein in our bodies into vitamin D3. We don’t need to see a lot of sun action to create vitamin D either— to quote the Skin Cancer Foundation again, “Even committed proponents of unprotected sun exposure recommend no more than 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to arms, legs, abdomen and back, two to three times a week, followed by good sun protection.”

It’s also important to note that sunscreens don’t block out 100% of the sun’s rays. In addition, most people don’t even apply the proper amount of sunscreen to get the full advertised protection, which means they’re getting even more rays than they think. So even with sunscreen, you’re still getting sun exposure which means your body is still converting vitamin D.

You can do some more reading (here’s an article from the Skin Cancer Foundation and one from the American Academy of Dermatology) but the overwhelming consensus is that the benefits of sun protection outweigh the risks of vitamin D deficiency— which can be corrected with supplements/ dietary changes.

Sunscreen does the MOST

I clutch my non-existent pearls whenever I see someone say sunscreen does nothing.

So you may not see immediate visible results from sunscreen like you would with an exfoliating mask or vitamin C serum. BUT that doesn’t mean it’s not doing anything. In fact, it’s doing the most! Not only is it protecting us from skin cancer and other scary healthy risks, but it’s protecting us from more cosmetic issues too.

If you want some numbers, “controlled studies have shown that regular use of an SPF 15 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen reduces your chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent, melanoma by 50 percent, and premature skin aging by 24 percent” (quoted from that same Skin Cancer Foundation post as above.)

Sunscreen is probably the number 1 anti-aging product out there! It helps prevent photodamage which includes but is not limited to age spots, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, darkened acne scars. Of course, some aging is expected because hello, we’re only human. But sunscreen helps slow down and in some cases prevent the damage from happening. As they say, prevention is easier (and cheaper!) than treatment.

The way I see it, if you’re maintaining an expensive skincare routine but skipping out on sunscreen, you’re basically throwing water down the drain. ESPECIALLY if you’re using any treatment that makes your skin more photosensitive.

My next post is going to be all about my favorite sunscreen recommendations!

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Sharmili Rakhit