For most people a summer body is synonymous with brown, bronzed skin. (And yes, some of you are blessed to wake up like that.) But—we’ll just get this out of the way—even a minimal amount of tanning is bad for you because it puts you at risk for sunburn.
While media coverage points to a turning tide with America’s sun tan obsession, our habits suggest otherwise. Whether you’re worried about cancer or aging, or you need some convincing to cover up, here are all your burning questions (LOL), answered:
Is all sun exposure bad?
Sunlight makes the world go round, and to some extent, it’s good for us. In limited quantities, sunshine helps with our vitamin D production and lifts our spirits.
The bad news: there is no good tan and sunburn is even worse.
A tan is your body’s response to harm, and sunburn is an injury. The more you expose your skin to harm, the more likely it is that you’ll get skin cancer, or at the very least, skin spots and wrinkles.
What about the vitamin D?
Humans are not like plants. We don’t need hours of sunlight to convert fuel to energy. Even when it comes to vitamin D production, that tan time isn’t necessary. Your body is way more efficient than you think it is.
“It’s a big trend right now for people to claim they have low vitamin D, but everyday sun exposure of 15 minutes is enough to activate the sufficient vitamin D production,” says Dr. Timm Golueke, dermatologist and founder of Royal Fern Skincare.. “You can also take vitamin D orally, so there’s no excuse to avoid sun block.”
Do you have to wear sunscreen in the car?
Yes, you should still apply sunscreen, even in you’re just going to be in the car. “UVA rays are able to pass through a window or car windshield so sun protection should be worn indoors and while in the car also,” says dermatologist Dr. Jessica Weiser, from New York Dermatology Group. Likewise, Dr. Golueke suggests wearing sunblock during travel.
It probably isn’t the first thing in your mind when you’re planning for a trip, but it’s important to start putting on that sunscreen before you travel, especially if you have a long ride ahead of you.
… or if it’s cloudy?
Cloudy days are almost more dangerous, because you don’t expect sun damage. “Both UVA and UVB rays are able to penetrate through clouds and therefore cloudy or foggy days are often the highest risk for sunburn because clouds give a false sense of sun protection,” says Dr. Weiser.
Don’t let the clouds lull you into a false sense of security. A cloudy summer day makes for perfect cycling or running weather, but it also leaves your skin open to unnecessary damage. Throw on a little sunscreen before you head out the door.
… if you have on a cover up?
Oddly, not even clothes are fool-proof sun protection. While it would be difficult to get a sunburn through heavier, opaque clothing, summer outfits offer less protection. “In general, clothing has an SPF of 15—it’s not a true sun block and it never protects your skin 100 percent, as UVA rays will penetrate this layer,” says Dr. Golueke.
So those breezy tanks that are oh-so-perfect for warm weather aren’t really great for sun protection. It wouldn’t hurt to put a little sunscreen on, even where your clothes will cover.
Sunscreen, Burns, and Exercising
Naturally, you’ll be sweating (because you’re crushing it) during your Aaptiv workout. Keep in mind that while you’re rocking your run, your sun protection can become less efficient. “Sweat can wash sunscreen away,” says Dr. Sejal Shah at Smarter Skin Dermatology. “Also if you are wiping sweat off, you are also wiping the sunscreen off.”
Water, too, will start to wash away sunscreen. Even if it’s water-resistant, re-apply your sunblock regularly.
If you’ve already messed up (tsk tsk) and have a bad burn. Can you still exercise?
You can, but it will likely be uncomfortable. “Working out itself is unlikely to do more damage to your skin (e.g. It will not cause DNA damage as the sunburn does),” says Dr. Shah. “However if you have a severe burn, you may find working out uncomfortable or painful. Sweat and movement may further irritate the skin. If skin or blisters are peeled forcefully which may happen accidentally during a workout, this could lead to scarring.”
If your burn is bad enough that you’re blistering, apply a gentle moisturizer or aloe. Likewise, be conscientious of your damaged skin. If you’re planning on going back out in the sun to workout, apply plenty of sunscreen beforehand (or better yet, cover up). Sun on already burnt skin is insult to injury.
The good news is you can still use Aaptiv if you find yourself sunburnt and unable to workout. Take a gentle stretching class to heal your muscles and get rid of any frustration over not being able to work out with a meditation.
Will a few bad sunburns affect your skin’s health?
Sadly, yes. Every tan and every burn has a negative impact on your skin’s health and vitality. “Any sunburn, even a single episode, causes damage to the skin cells but repeat sunburns in the same skin area is a significant risk factor for skin cancer,” says Dr. Weiser.
This isn’t to say that cancer is imminent if you got a burnt during a swim or long Aaptiv run. It’s more of a reason to be contentious of the time you’re spending in the sun. When it comes to your skin’s health, sun block goes a long way.
Is a sunburn the same as a burn from fire?
As anyone who’s ever gotten sunburn can attest to: it FEELS THE SAME. But, these are not the same type of burn.
Look, I don’t give AF about cancer. I’m worried about looking old. Does sun protection look the same?
Here’s some good news: protecting your skin from the sun is two-for; it helps prevent skin cancer and aging. “It looks the same,” says Dr. Golueke. “We have UVB and UVA rays—in the past it was thought that UVA rays were the rays that cause skin aging not skin cancer. Now we know that both UVA and UVB rays cause skin cancer—there are no good UV rays.”
Apply liberally my friends; sunscreen is working overtime—like a cancer and wrinkle-fighting super hero.
Peeling burned skin is so tempting. How horrible is that?
Peeling off burned skin is one of those super satisfying slash super gross things. It can also cause damage to the healthy skin underneath. If your dry, peeling skin is bothersome, light exfoliation in the shower is the way to go.
How to pick your sunscreen.
Hopefully, you’ve decided sun protection is the way to go. Now you just have to decide whether you want to use sunscreen or sunblock. Although we’ve used both terms interchangeably here, there is a difference:
Physical sunscreen (sunblock): Physical sunscreens contain active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin’s surface and deflect the UV rays away from the skin. These work immediately.
Chemical sunscreen: Chemical sunscreen, however, is absorbed into the skin where it filters and absorbs a portion of the sun’s rays. These take 20-30 minutes to take effect after application.
“Generally, physical sunscreens are preferred by dermatologists because they form a more complete barrier to UV but also because some of the chemical sunscreens have been shown to cause free radical formation which actually accelerates skin damage and aging in the long run,” says Dr. Weiser.
Dealing with the daily “Should I wear sunscreen today?”
It’s annoying to check the weather every day. Also, as it turns out, sun damage can occur just about any time. So, instead of debating sunscreen every morning, just make it part of your daily routine.
You can find lotions, foundations, and primers all with SPF protection. Take advantage of all the options.