Think You Don’t Need Sunscreen During Lockdown? Check Again!
We’re confined indoors following the national lockdown so who needs sunscreen, right? Wrong.
A couple of years ago, the story of William McElligott surfaced, one which also happened to be an interesting study in the importance of wearing sunscreen, and sun damage on our skin.
, McElligott was a truck driver who never wore sunscreen, and his face, after braving the different moods and weathers of his close to thirty-year-long career, was unequivocal in speaking its truth. One Google search is all it takes to see two vastly different sides of the same face - one which was next to the truck window, thereby always exposed to sunlight in some form, and one which was forever away.
When you see the wrinkled side, juxtaposed against the relatively smoother one, remember to remind yourself this isn’t an image out of sci-fi fiction.
However, McElligott, albeit an anomaly, isn’t the only one who might have underestimated the importance of sunscreen in our lives, and the strength of the sun in a predominantly tropical country like ours. Especially in contemporary times, as we get confined indoors following the national lockdown, who needs sunscreen, right? Wrong. And that is only the beginning. Here’s how doctors explain it.
How Important Is It to Wear Sunscreen Indoors?
The short answer is - very, according to Dr. Deepak Vohra, Senior Consultant, Dermatology at Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.
“The glass typically used in homes and offices does not block the long-wavelength UVA light, even though it filters out uvb. The UVA can cause early signs of skin aging, wrinkles and can increase the risk of skin cancer.”Dr Deepak Vohra
An easy way to distinguish between UVA and UVB rays is - the first kind causes ‘A’geing and the second causes ‘B’urns. Of course, this is an oversimplification, but one which should come in handy before you jump into more detailed information about sun damage (discussed below).
Dr. Rashmi Malik, Principal Consultant Dermatologist, Max Hospital Gurgaon, emphasizes this further.
As a dermatologist in practice for twenty years, the most important take-home message that I have given my patients is that sunscreen is an absolute must - both indoors and outdoors.
Even if we discount the rays coming from our screens, we need to keep in mind that there are rays coming in from glass windows and there is that occasional stepping out into the balcony.
If we don’t incorporate sunscreen into our daily morning regimen, even five minutes of exposure will eventually bring about cumulative damage to the skin.Dr. Rashmi Malik
Don’t Take All Your Screen Time Lightly
Another reason for wearing sunscreen indoors is the blue light emitted from the screens of computers and smartphones, fluorescence tubes, and the LED bulbs, says Dr. Vohra.
“The blue light is a high energy light which can generate free radicals and can cause damage to the skin, leading to pigmentation, wrinkles, and can make the skin sensitive, more so in people with pre-existing skin conditions like rosacea.”Dr. Deepak Vohra
It is important to note, he reiterates, that protection from the blue light becomes more crucial if you are in front of the computer or smartphone for long hours, attending virtual meetings, watching your favorite movie or series, or during any activity that increases your screen time.
Since the blue light is the real culprit, exposure to LED lights and incandescent bulbs in themselves do not require sunscreen protection, but if they do emit this blue light, it can lead to a need to lather on some SPF. Hence, pay attention to the kind of lighting you spend your time when indoors.
How Harmful Is Diffused Sunlight?
Since the sun is very strong in several parts of India for a large portion of the year, diffused sunlight becomes a real concern as well. This means even on a cloudy day or while being in shade, you are not entirely safe from the harmful effects of the sun on your skin and health.
“The UV radiation from sunlight can get reflected from different surfaces like snow, sea, dry sand, and concrete. This diffuse or indirect UV radiation can still damage the skin and can actually increase the total amount of UV exposure. Therefore, even if you are under shade outdoors and not directly under the sun, you should protect yourself from the diffused sunlight by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, wearing a hat, goggles, and clothing that covers the exposed parts of the body.”Dr. Deepak Vohra
Dr. Malik adds to this in the following manner:
The diffused sunlight is a real concern which is why we need sunscreens indoors too to save us from it. Studies show, and I have observed personally, that sun damage is worse on the side of the face and arm that is towards the window while we are driving or being driven in the car. Mostly only windshields are treated to protect against UVA and UVB rays, but side and rear windows are not.
That additional one-sided exposure leads to more pigmentation and thickening on one side of the face and redness and photodermatitis on exposed arms or other body parts.
Here’s Why You Should Wear Sunscreen Even on a Laden Day
Now since so many of us are spending all our time indoors in accordance with the current social distancing norms, and rainy days have begun to make an appearance in several parts of the country, you might think that what can sun, that is anyway concealed behind a thick cloud cover, can do to you.
Dr Vohra busts this myth, one which misleads people to believe that it’s okay to skip sunscreen on laden days, especially during monsoon.
“We need sunscreen even on cloudy days as clouds block only about 20 percent of the UV rays and 80 percent of the ultraviolet light still reaches the earth’s surface and can cause harmful effects on the skin.”Dr. Deepak Vohra
How Does Sunlight Cause Ageing and Skin Damage?
With the how’s and why’s out of the way, let’s now focus on the what - what is it exactly that the sun does to your skin? Dr. Vohra explains it in a comprehensive manner:
Understanding the UV Rays:
There are two main types of ultraviolet rays in the sunlight which cause damage to the skin. The UVB rays are of higher energy and damage the outer layers of the skin and are responsible for the sunburn.
The UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and are responsible for damage to the cells, while also degrading fibrous tissue of the skin like collagen, causing signs of premature aging.
UVA and UVB rays can damage the genetic material, which is the DNA of the cells, which can cause mutations and lead to skin cancer. Both the ultraviolet rays can also cause tanning which is a sign of UV exposure and there is no such thing as a safe tan. These rays also cause oxidative stress by generating free radicals. The degenerative changes occurring in the skin due to UV exposure lead to skin damage and immunologic problems. Sunscreens block, absorb or reflect the UV radiation from the skin and offer protection from these damaging effects of the sun.
Effects of UV Light
Dr Malik lists down the effects of UV light as an acute occurrence that ranges from a ‘sunburn’ which is an inflammatory response and is mainly due to UVB rays and more in fair-skinned people due to lack of melanin, the protective pigment, to others that happen in a delayed manner, and mainly due to UVA rays. Additionally, all bands of UV damage collagen fibers that, in turn, leads to loss of elasticity of the skin and accelerates wrinkle formation. Your sensitivity to the sun is thus influenced by the quantity of melanin in your skin.
“For people with more melanin and darker complexions, the skin adapts by epidermal hyperplasia (Thickening of the skin) And adaptive melanization (Tanning) Thereby protecting cell DNA from further damage that can lead to skin cancers. Skin cancer, hence, is less common in dark-skinned people.”Dr Rashmi Malik
Lastly, How Does One Include Sunscreen in Their Daily Routine?
Dermatologists suggest sunscreen as the last step in your skincare routine and the first in your makeup routine. Dr Malik localizes the application further by giving a distinction between its consistencies.
“If you are using cream-based or lotion-based sunscreens, you can either skip the moisturizer or put it on after (If the skin is very dry). Do not MIX it with your moisturizer as that dilutes the sunscreen. Makeup can be put on last.”Dr Rashmi Malik
Dr Vohra reminds us that it should cover all exposed parts of the body while adding, “Makeup like a foundation with sunscreen is not enough for sun protection. Broad-spectrum sunscreens that offer protection against both the UVA and UVB, are of at least SPF 30, and water-resistant, should be used. Sunscreens with physical blockers like zinc oxide, antioxidants, and those which are tinted offer protection against the blue light also. Sunscreens should be applied at least twenty minutes before anticipated sun exposure and should be repeated every two hours if outdoors.”
Choosing a higher SPF like 30 or 50 can make up somewhat for the lesser quantity used. For a regular workday, SPF 15-30 is usually sufficient. Also, water-resistant sunscreens are preferred in hot humid climatic conditions. In the end, please remember that the effectiveness of sunscreen is highly dependent on how it is applied. So choose right and apply right, reiterates Dr Malik.
The experts have spoken and the jury is out. There are no more excuses to skip sunscreen from your daily routine. Incorporate it now and you’ll be thanking us for the advice ten years down the line.
(Rosheena Zehra is a published author and media professional. You can find out more about her work here.)
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