According to Nielson and NPR, sunscreen sales have been dropping in the U.S. over the past several weeks in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, reportedly down 2.7% the week of March 2 and another 17% the week of March 9. With so many people staying at home to practice social distancing or self-quarantining, it may seem like protection against UV rays is no longer a necessity. But this mindset is actually somewhat troubling, according to experts.
It's important to first note that throughout the rise of coronavirus and Covid-19 concerns, health and wellness experts have continually emphasized the importance of going outside throughout the day if it's possible to do so and maintain a safe distance from others. Getting exercise and fresh air outdoors — not to mention connecting with nature — are all useful when it comes to bolstering mental and physical health, immunity and stress response. So for anyone partaking in outside activities, sunscreen remains a crucial means of protecting against skin cancer (not to mention premature signs of aging). As a reminder, experts suggest looking for formulas with broad-spectrum protection of at least SPF 30 or higher and applying it liberally about 15 minutes before sun exposure.
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But even for those who rarely make it outside their own living spaces or their WFH sweatpants, it's important not to forget daily sunscreen for several reasons. The first? Windows! Duh. "UVA rays penetrate through glass, so if your room has a window, it is important to wear sunscreen even when inside," explains Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist at Day Dermatology & Aesthetics in New York City. "UVA rays are generally linked to the aging of skin cells and tend to be the cause of wrinkles, sun spots and other signs of sun damage." In other words, just because you're inside doesn't mean you're not experiencing some sort of sun-related damage to the skin.
Dr. King does note, though, that it's less likely to develop a sunburn or skin cancer via sunlight coming in through the window. "UVB rays, which are the principal cause of sunburns, directly damage DNA in skin cells and are linked to most skin cancers. The glass typically used in car, home and office windows is designed to block most UVB rays, but it does not offer protection from all UVA rays. So even if you're indoors, if you're close to a window, you still are at risk of exposure to UVA rays and possible sun damage."
If you're of the belief that you don't need sunscreen because it's just not that sunny out this time of year, think again: "UVA rays are present throughout the year at the same intensity, even when we experience cloudy, springtime weather, and the damage they cause is not always immediately visible," says Holly Thaggard, the founder of Supergoop.
Then there are those of us who are working from home in... less-than-sun-drenched, natural-light-filled rooms. Even if you fall into the categories of basement-dweller or only-window-in-my-apartment-faces-a-nearby-brick-wall, according to Dr. King, you should still slather on your daily SPF. Why? You're likely sitting in front of some sort of screen, whether it's your phone, tablet, computer or TV. And that can bring its own risks along with it.
"High-energy visible light (HEV light) is high-frequency, high-energy light in the violet/blue band from 400 to 450 nm in the visible spectrum. HEV light is all around us — it's part of the light we can see. HEV light is primarily from the sun, but it's also emitted by smartphones, tablets, televisions, fluorescent bulbs and computer screens," explains Dr. King. While there are certain major benefits of exposure to HEV light — "routine exposure to blue light, preferably from daylight, helps regulate our body's sleep-wake cycle, improves our mood, keep us alert and can enhance memory," per Dr. King — it can also have negative impacts on skin.
"HEV light penetrates into the lower layers of skin, the dermis. It is not associated with skin cancer like UV rays are, but it can cause skin to age prematurely, a process called photo-aging," she says. "It can also contribute to hyperpigmentation and may play a part in melasma and age spots. Like UV rays, HEV light generates free radicals, or reactive oxygen species. These free radicals cause skin cells to produce enzymes that break down collagen and elastin in the skin."
One way to protect against excessive HEV light exposure is to install covers that block blue light or to enable the "night mode" settings on your digital devices permanently. "This significantly reduces the blue light in favor of harmless yellow light," says Dr. King. Another option is to use sunscreen. But not just any sunscreen formula will work here. "The chemicals and pigments used to filter UVA and UVB do not filter HEV light, therefore not all sunscreens include blue light in their standard broad-spectrum UVA/UVB coverage," says Dr. King. "Zinc oxide- and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens can reflect some portions of HEV light, but not all. Iron oxide also helps protect against visible light."
For additional protection, she advises looking for products that contain antioxidants. "Antioxidants like Licochalcone A and Glycyrrhetinic Acid have been shown to work together to protect skin cells in the deeper epidermal layers from sun-induced damage," says Dr. King. "Clinical research has shown that sunscreens containing Licochalcone A offer effective and extended protection from HEV light in addition to UV."
This is something Thaggard and Supergoop have sought to address with their products. "We've been thinking a lot about our increased exposure to blue light as our team continues to work remotely and take all of our meetings digitally," says Thaggard. "To better serve the daily needs of our skin in this modern age, our Unseen Sunscreen was the first Supergoop product created to protect against blue light. We now offer a variety of solutions, that provide this same benefit, thanks to a variety of antioxidants and minerals."
Stay safe, wash those hands and then slather on plenty of sunscreen while you social distance, folks!
In the gallery below, a selection of Dr. King's top sunscreen picks to work into your work from home routine right now.
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