If you're anything like me and sprout a new crop of freckles anytime you step outside, you're probably wondering if that sunscreen you're slathering on is enough to protect you from the dangerous rays of the sun. Spoiler: It's not.
According to a new study published in JAMA Dermatology, people who are particularly sensitive to the sun (typically those with paler skin) need to layer up when it comes to protection. The researchers found that people with sun sensitivities are more likely to get a sunburn if they rely on sunscreen alone. Instead, they require additional protection like hats, sunglasses and sitting in the shade in order to be safer in the sun.
Dr. Kasey Morris of the National Cancer Institute, one of the coauthors of the study, told Reuters that in order to understand how to prevent skin cancer, we must first look at our sun-protection behaviors. “Most of these cases are caused by excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation and could be avoided through adequate sun-protective behaviors,” she told Reuters.
After analyzing data from more than 28,000 responses to the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, Morris and her colleagues learned that 77 percent of people used at least one form of sun protection. Nearly 16,000 of the survey participants identified as "sun-sensitive," and among those respondents, those who relied only on sunscreen for protection had the highest burn rates — 62 percent. Not only that, but the sun-sensitive people who reported the lowest likelihood of sunburn actually didn’t use sunscreen, but instead opted to stay in the shade or wore a hat and/or protective clothing.
“The most surprising and counterintuitive finding was that regular sunscreen use, in the absence of other protective behaviors, was associated with the highest likelihood of sunburn,” Morris said to Reuters.
So, does this research suggest we skip the sunscreen? Absolutely not, but we also shouldn't act like lotioning up with some SPF 30 once in the morning for a full day at the beach is adequate protection. Sunscreen is absolutely necessary, but in order to be the most effective, it needs to be applied regularly (as in every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating) according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
“This study underscores recommendations that sunscreen should not be used in isolation,” Morris told Reuters.
And it's probably a good idea to take sun protection seriously. According to the Centers for Disease Control, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 1 in 5 Americans will get a form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
So, get out and enjoy the summer weather — just don't forget the sunscreen, hat and shade.