The Importance of Wearing Sunscreen All Year Round

Dermatology experts at UChicago Medicine share some facts about how sunscreen works and how to use it properly.

It may not be beach season, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wearing your sunscreen. In fact, you should be wearing it in the cooler months and all-year-round. 

“Using sunscreen is the best way to protect your skin from sun damage,” say Arlene Ruiz de Luzuriage, MD, and Oluwakemi Onajin, MD, dermatologists and members of the expert skin specialist team at the University of Chicago Medicine. Just because the sky looks cloudy or the air feels cold doesn’t mean you’re protected from the sun.

On cloudy days, up to 90 percent of UV rays can pass through the cloud cover,” say the experts. “Additionally, snow can reflect up to 80 percent of UV rays.”

It’s important to apply an SPF, regardless of weather, age or skin tone. Anyone can get sunburned and it’s important to understand how this can happen, so you can try to avoid it. 

What is SPF?

“SPF, or sun protection factor, measures how well sunscreen protects against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which cause sunburn and play a major role in developing skin cancer,” say Dr. Ruiz de Luzuriage and Dr. Onajin.  

Arlene Ruiz De Luzuriaga, MD, Dermatologist, UChicago Medicine. Photo credit: UChicago Medicine

They explain that the higher the SPF number, the higher the level of protection against sunburn. 

How much SPF should you use?

“We recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher,” they say. “While sunscreens with higher SPF block slightly more UV rays, they last the same amount of time as a lower-number SPF sunscreen and should be reapplied after two hours.”

Make sure you are using enough sunscreen and applying often (every couple of hours) in order to stay protected from sun rays. Dr. Onajin and Dr. Ruiz de Luzuriage explain that adults should use approximately two tablespoons to cover their body and a nickel-size drop for their face. 

What is the best sunscreen to use?

The dermatology experts at UChicago Medicine explain that because everybody’s skin is different, they should be using a sunscreen that best fits their skin type.

“People with sensitive skin should use inorganic sunscreen, since it’s hypoallergenic and less likely to irritate your skin,” says the experts. “Creams are best for dry skin and gels are good for the hairy parts of your skin such as the scalp.”

They also talk about convenience having a say in the type of sunscreen you use. For example, it’s easier to use the spray kind because they’re easier to apply, especially on children. 

Other ways to protect yourself

Oluwakemi Onajin, MD, Dermatologist, UChicago Medicine. Photo credit: UChicago Medicine

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) says you can protect your skin from the sun by wearing “lightweight and long sleeved shirts and pants, sunglasses with UV protection, a wide-brimmed hat and shoes that cover your feet.” They also stress that you should wear a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on all skin not covered by clothing. 

“Clothing is an additional protective tool that provides a physical barrier to UV rays,” say the experts. “The degree of protection is defined by the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) and is determined by the garment’s fabric and how it’s made.”

How to treat a sunburn

“To help heal and soothe stinging skin, it is important to begin treating sunburn as soon as you notice it,” according to the AADA. 

You can also use these tips from the dermatology experts at UChicago Medicine. 

  • Use aloe vera-based gels to provide pain relief
  • Take a cool bath
  • Apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream
  • Take an oral NSAID, such as ibuprofen
  • Stay hydrated

“If you have a sunburn with severe blistering on a large part of your body, and/or severe pain and symptoms such as fever, headache or vomiting, seek medical care immediately,” say the physicians.

Content brought to you by UChicago Medicine. Learn about UChicago Medicine and Comer Children’s unique approach to the care of women and children. Discover UchicagoMedicine.org.


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Kari Zaffarano
Kari Zaffarano
Kari Zaffarano is a mom of one and Chicago Parent's Audience Development Coordinator. She tracks down the best events every week and shares the inside scoop with families in print and online. She enjoys reading, traveling and exploring new places with her son.

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