Wearing sunscreen every day, especially if you're outside a lot, can help prevent certain conditions such as premature skin aging, sunburns, and even skin cancer. The risks are serious — skin cancer affects over 3.3 million people each year, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (JAMA) So it's pretty obvious that we'd naturally turn to lotions and sprays to lower our risk. That is, aside from staying out of the sun.
The question is, is it okay to wear sunscreen everyday? Sure, it's a good idea to protect your exposed skin from harmful UV rays, but could daily use be detrimental? All it takes is a quick Google search to find articles that state that sunscreen is ineffective, all the way to claiming that the ingredients can cause you harm.
But it is even true? Does slathering on something that is supposed to help you have the opposite effect?
Let's take a look.
A Peek into the FDA
Believe it or not, sunscreens originally went on the market as cosmetics. However, when these products started making health-related claims like preventing skin cancer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started regulating them as drugs in 1978.
The thing is, sunscreens that were already in existence before 1978 weren't subjected to the same types of testing until the FDA started to regulate their ingredients and usage. In other words, these products weren't subject to the same type of testing as modern drugs. The ingredients in these sunscreens fell into a category referred to as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). (JAMA)
However, with new options like mineral sunscreen and reef-safe varieties, ingredients such as BPA in plastic, avobenzone, retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone in chemical sunscreens have been put under the microscope as to whether the toxicity levels are any cause for concern.
So Are Chemicals in Sunscreens Effective?
The good news is the FDA has wondered the same thing and has questioned whether the chemicals from sunscreens are indeed absorbed into the body and what the possible effects are.
Back in May 2019, a study was published in JAMA where it aimed to answer these questions. The study randomly selected 24 healthy people to use one of four sunscreens. One was a cream, two were sprays and the fourth was a lotion. The participants were told to apply the sunscreens on 75% of their bodies four times a day for the next four days. Then, they had 30 blood samples drawn over the course of seven days.
The study looked at avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule, four common sunscreen ingredients. For all four sunscreens tested, all of them were above the nanogram threshold after the first day, in which the FDA states that the product will then need to undergo a toxicology assessment.
Except for the cream, the nanogram levels were higher than the limit allowed by the FDA. Plus, the levels increased with each passing day, which suggests with continued use, there'll be chemical accumulation in the body.
Is It Bad to Wear Sunscreen Everyday?
To be clear, the study mentioned above is no indication that sunscreen is bad for you, even sunscreen designed for children. It's possible that even with the amount absorbed, it's still perfectly safe to wear it to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. If you think about it, tons of people use sunscreen and there is hardly any data so far that has shown any issues with them. Given that, it's safe to say that the question "is it safe to wear sunscreen every day?" is probably, yes.
That being said, the FDA is still preparing their final recommendation on chemicals found in sunscreens. For now, the FDA's proposed rule is that any sunscreen with trolamine salicylate and para-aminobenzoic acid should not be given the GRAS designation. Plus, since zinc oxide and titanium dioxide aren't absorbed into the skin (rather it sits on it), these inorganic compounds can be classified as GRAS.
What's the Best Way to Protect Myself From The Sun?
You might not be convinced that wearing sunscreen is still harmful and you should forego it altogether. Or you're going to use alternatives like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. However, with lots of new entrants to the market, these types of sunscreens may be less effective than conventional ones — they may be less likely to meet the sun protection rating you see on the packaging. So it's smart to shop around and go with brands that have a long track record of success in protecting from sun exposure using alternative ingredients. (Consumer Reports)
Remember, there is no clear evidence that proves chemicals in conventional sunscreens are bad for you. But if you're still uneasy about wearing sunscreen every day, you can still protect yourself from sun exposure by wearing protective clothing that blocks out the sun, like hats and UV protective clothing or even staying in the shade as much as possible.
Otherwise, think of sunscreen as a supplement to other sun protection methods. If you're inside and thinking "should I wear sunscreen indoors," the answer is it's better to be safe if you're near a window.
When you do wear sunscreen, there are some basic guidelines or best practices to follow to prevent sun damage. As for answering, what SPF I should use, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that everyone wears an SPF sunscreen daily, even children. As long as you make sure that the sunscreen you choose is properly vetted to protect from UV radiation, you should be ready to go.
When applying sunscreen, make sure to cover all of your exposed skin that clothing won't cover — the AAD says most adults need at least one ounce to cover the entire body (don't forget your lips!). Don't forget to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. If you're outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, after sweating or after swimming — and be sure to read the directions on your bottle! Following these guidelines will provide the best defense against harmful rays and overall UV exposure.
No matter what, it's imperative that you take care of your health and protect yourself from skin damage. It's great you want to spend time outdoors, but you also need to ensure you take the right precautions in place to protect your health for years to come.
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Sarah Li-Cain is a finance writer and a AFC (Accredited Financial Counselor) candidate whose work has appeared in places like Bankrate, Business Insider, Redbook, Financial Planning Association, Investopedia and International Business Times. She's also the host of Beyond The Dollar, a show where her and her guests have deep and honest conversations about how money affects their well-being. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, she can be found spending time at the beach with her family when she's not working.