The Sunscreen Series: Do I Need to Wear Sunscreen if it’s Cloudy?

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The short answer: yes. Unfortunately, it’s very common for people to think that sunscreen is synonymous with long days at the beach or the pool, but sunscreen actually needs to be a part of everyday life. This includes sunny days, cloudy days, even rainy days, and especially snowy days. And if you’re at the pool, but you’re under shade the whole time? You definitely need to be wearing sunscreen.

Sun damage is caused by ultra-violet (UV) rays emitted by the sun. There are two kinds: UVA and UVB. Both are invisible to the naked eye, so there is no way of accurately gauging how much UV radiation you receive. UVA rays have longer waveforms and are responsible for tanning and penetrating to the deepest layers of the skin, causing damage. This form of radiation is found in tanning booths, which “emit doses of UVA as much as 12 times that of the sun” (Skin Cancer Foundation).

UVB rays have shorter waveforms and thusly do not penetrate as deep into the skin as UVA rays do. These rays are primarily associated with sunburns and superficial damage to the skin, and plays the biggest role in the development of skin cancers. UVB rays can damage and burn your skin all year round, especially when you’re hiking up a mountain or skiing on the slopes.

Snow, ice, sand, and water are some of the environments in which sunscreen is most important, yet often overlooked. These surfaces are reflective, so they magnify UVB rays and bounce them back for double exposure. So while you might think staying under an umbrella poolside or on the beach might protect you from the sun’s rays overhead, you’re still being hit with the reflections.

Driving is another important situation where sunscreen is often disregarded. The Skin Cancer Foundation cited a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, which found that almost 53% of skin cancers in the United States occur on the driver’s side of the body (2016). Although UVB rays are blocked by glass, UVA rays can penetrate glass and cause damage. You can prevent this damage by installing transparent films on your windows, which can block almost 100% of ultra-violet rays without impacting visibility. Another prevention method would be to apply sunscreen religiously during long drives. And if you must open the sunroof or put the convertible top down (and we don’t blame you), make sure your head, neck, and ears are covered either with sunscreen or a wide-brimmed hat.