Sun protection has always been an important part of anti-aging. We’ve all heard the warnings to wear sunscreen when you’re heading out for an afternoon in the sun, and many of us listen—but only in the summer when the sun is hot and toasty. However, sun protection is critical year-round because even though you may not be able to feel it, ultraviolet (UV) rays remain dangerously high even in frigid temperatures.
On top of the significantly increased risk of skin cancer, careless sun protection is often responsible for producing premature signs of aging in older individuals. The condition is called photoaging, or dermatoheliosis, and symptoms include the accelerated formation of wrinkles and spider veins, leathery-textured skin, loss of skin tone, and pigmented age spots. Sun protection is especially important for older adults because as we age, our skin becomes more sensitive and, therefore, takes longer to recover from damage.
Despite the increased necessity of sun protection for aging individuals year-round, a recent survey found that many adults don’t listen to sun protection advice about applying sunscreen when heading outdoors in the winter. Participants partaking in outdoor winter recreational activities were given the following sunscreen advice: use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 15, apply it at least 30 minutes before heading outside, and then reapply two hours later. Of the 4,837 adults surveyed, half of them reported complying with using SPF 15 or higher, and 20.4% reapplied it after two hours. Only 4.4% of the participants reported following all three sun protection guidelines to a tee.
Changes in weather patterns shouldn’t affect sun protection practices, but according to the survey, worse weather means worse sun protection. The number of people who followed all of the sunscreen guidelines dropped even lower than 4.4% when the weather worsened, such as when it got colder or wetter.
The results of this survey have been echoed by other research in the area of sun protection. A national survey supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that in 2008, only 58% of adults reported that they used at least one of three sun protection measures: sunscreen, protective clothing, and seeking shade. Of the 58% that use sun protection, only 32% said they regularly apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
Another survey was conducted in 2009 by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. They asked 1,000 Americans about their sun protection habits and found that 31% never wore sunscreen, while 69% claimed to use it occasionally. Among the users, half of them admitted to getting sunburned within the past two years because they didn’t realize how strong the sun was or how long they had been outside.
All of these findings are a clear indication that although some adults are heeding the advice to wear sunscreen, too many are missing the importance of sun protection. UV rays can be detrimental for the human body, and yet sun protection remains one of the easiest anti-aging methods we’ve known to date.
Buller, D.B., et al., “Compliance with sunscreen advice in a survey of adults engaged in outdoor winter recreation at high-elevation ski areas,” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2012; 66: 63-70.
Chitale, R., “One Third of Americans Don’t Use Sunscreen,” ABC News web site; https://abcnews.go.com/Health/SkinCare/story?id=7637104&page=1#.UZFG36LvvIc, last accessed May 13, 2013.
“Photoaging,” Canadian Dermatology Association web site; https://www.dermatology.ca/skin-hair-nails/skin/photoaging/#!/skin-hair-nails/skin/photoaging/what-is-photoaging/, last accessed May 13, 2013.
“Sun-Protective Behavior Rates,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site; https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/behavior.htm, last accessed May 13, 2013.