During the summer months, practicing proper sun care is a no-brainer. Whether you're heading to the beach or anywhere else in the great outdoors, bringing along sunscreen for you and your loved ones is always a smart choice. After all, no one enjoys sunburns (we think?) not to mention extensive sun damage to the skin can lead to imperfections, wrinkles and, in some cases, even skin cancers.
During other times of the year, and when we find ourselves away from outdoor environments, our sun care regimens may fall by the wayside. At FSAstore.com, we're big supporters of year-round sun care, and in accordance with IRS regulations, the only sun care products that are eligible for FSA/HSA spending are those that have broad spectrum protection against UVA/UVB rays and a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or above. So if you decide to shop for sun care with your tax-free healthcare dollars, you can rest assured that you'll be fully protected when enjoying time in the sun.
However, if you're going to go the year-round sun care route, a common question may arise: Should I wear sunscreen indoors? The short answer is: yes, but there are a number of factors that could inform your decision. Let's go through the whole issue to help you decide if indoor sun care is a smart choice for long-term wellness.
How does sun damage happen?
First and foremost, understanding how skin damage occurs from sun exposure is extremely important in understanding whether you should wear sunscreen indoors. Simply put, sunburn and skin damage is caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays, which are natural energy produced by the sun. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, ultraviolet rays are broken up into two key wavelengths:
Ultraviolet A (UVA): UVA has a longer wavelength than UVB rays and penetrates to the deeper skin layers. UVA is the most common wavelength associated with signs of aging.
Ultraviolet B (UVB): UVB rays are the shorter wavelength of the two and primarily affect the upper skin layers. As such, UVB rays are what causes sunburns after prolonged exposure to sunlight.
This is why broad-spectrum sunscreen is so important, as it blocks both of the wavelengths that cause long and short-term skin damage. But while all that makes perfect sense when you're outdoors in direct sunlight, it gets a little more complicated when it comes to indoor sun protection.
Do you need sunscreen indoors?
Sun care should be a regular part of your daily routine, but if you find yourself skipping it because you'll be spending most of your day inside and away from direct sunlight, sun damage can still happen. According to CNN Underscored, Dr. Hadley King, a New York-based dermatologist, suggests that indoor sunscreen use should be encouraged:
"UVA rays penetrate through glass, so if your room has a window, it is important to wear sunscreen even when inside," said King. "The glass typically used in car, home and office windows is designed to block most UVB rays, but it does not offer protection from all UVA rays. So even if you're indoors near a window, you are still at risk of exposure to UVA rays and possible sun damage."
So while you may not get sunburn from sitting next to a window all day, your skin is still probably absorbing a fair amount of UVA rays, which are still dangerous. But even if you managed to keep yourself in a dark room for days on end, there is still another compelling reason to wear sunscreen indoors: blue light.
Is blue light bad for my skin?
The question of whether blue light causes skin damage became a much bigger issue in 2020 during the COVID-19 public health crisis when millions of Americans transitioned to a work from home setting and dramatically increased their screen time with computers, tablets and smartphones. Blue light is a part of the visible light spectrum, but appears to us as white light when it's emitted by these devices.
According to the New York Times, there have been numerous studies on how blue light differs from UV rays. The news source reports that while UV light causes damage to skin by damaging skin cells directly, extended exposure to blue light actually has the ability to damage collagen in the skin. When blue light is exposed to skin, a chemical in the skin layer called flavin absorbs blue light. This produces unstable oxygen molecules, also known as free radicals, which have the potential to cause skin damage. But with a dearth of long-term studies on this topic, we still don't know the long-term effects of blue light on the skin.
But if you decide to err on the side of caution when spending time with blue light-emitting devices, a good rule of thumb is to opt for mineral sunscreen for protection. The New York Times reports that mineral sunscreens that contain iron oxide are your best bet. Mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide are also safe choices that can help protect your skin against prolonged blue light exposure, but they are not as effective against blue light as those that use iron oxide as primary ingredients. Products that contain vitamin C are also helpful, as these antioxidants can enter the cells directly and are small enough to penetrate the skin layer to fight the presence of free radicals. If you can find a vitamin C/vitamin E combination, that's an even better choice to double up the fight against free radicals.
So do you need sunscreen indoors? Chances are, unless you're in a dark room without any electronic devices to speak of, you should work sunscreen into your daily routine to ensure that your skin is fully protected from harmful rays, wherever they may be coming from. Make it something as simple as a step after taking a shower or moisturizing. A little bit of effort now can help you dramatically reduce your risk of potential skin cancers and help your skin look fresh and vibrant for years to come.