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When it comes to sun protection, we’ve come a long way (thankfully) since it was common to apply oil and sunbathe or jump into a tanning bed to improve sun-kissed skin tone.
A 2015 National Health Interview Survey found that 71 percent of Americans wear sunscreen almost every time they go outside on a warm, sunny day. That’s an increase of only about 30 percent in 2005, according to a November 2011 review in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Despite the general increase in sun exposure, some blind spots still persist today. Chief among them: the false belief that you can go without sunscreen while inside.
“UV radiation from the sun can penetrate most house and car windows,” says Dr. Grandma Agbai, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Director of Multicultural Dermatology and Hair Disorders at the University of California at Davis. This means that even when you are behind closed doors, rays of light can damage your skin.
And if you work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, you likely spend more time indoors than commuting. Even if you normally put on sunscreen before going to work, you could be missing out on this crucial step in skin care now that you are in.
But what really happens if you skip your SPF fix when you’re inside? Is it actually that big of an impact on your health and appearance? We asked dermatologists to weigh up.
Staying in the house offers partial sun protection
There are two types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA and UVB rays. “They penetrate different layers of the skin and influence different skin structures,” says Dr. Agbai.
According to the American Cancer Society, UVB rays target superficial layers of the skin. They damage the skin’s DNA, are the main cause of sunburn, and cause most skin cancers.
Here’s the good news: A September 2009 study in Photodermatologie Photoimmunologie und Photomedizin showed that window glass filters out deadly UVB rays.
The not so good news? Windows isn’t very effective at blocking UVA rays that penetrate deeper layers of the skin. The same study found that 74 percent of UVA rays are transmitted through glass.
“UVA radiation is not only responsible for skin cancer, but also for the breakdown of collagen, which leads to photoaging,” says Dr. Tarannum Jaleel, a dermatologist at Duke Dermatology Clinic.
These rays penetrate the dermis, damage collagen and elastin, and trigger accelerated aging. Think: sagging, wrinkles, leathery skin, and hyperpigmentation.
Surprisingly, the interior lighting also takes a toll
Get this: It’s not just sunlight that is dangerous to your skin. Blue light from LED ceiling lights and electronic devices (such as phones, laptops, and televisions) can also wreak havoc.
“It penetrates the skin and increases the formation of free radicals that break down collagen and elastin and lead to premature aging,” says Dr. Agbai.
A study from December 2018 in the Journal of Biomedical Physics and Technology indicates that an hour of blue light can damage the skin.
So yes, you should wear sunscreen inside
The bottom line is, just because you stay in doesn’t mean you’re off the hook about sunscreen – and you should get it on any exposed skin, not just your face.
“Put it on your face, ears, neck, chest, and arms when they’re exposed,” says Dr. Agbai. “Apply enough to create a film on your skin that you need to rub in.”
The type of sunscreen you use matters. So be sure to: “Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that blocks both UVB and UVA rays and provides partial coverage against blue light,” says Dr. Agbai. “Sunscreens that contain iron oxide offer more comprehensive protection against blue light and are therefore recommended for people with hyperpigmentation disorders such as sun lentigos or melasma.”
If you spend time outdoors, try reapplication every two hours, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
But a small study from November 2018 in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment 20 people working indoors suggest that if you are in a stay, you may be able to extend the time between uses. Study participants put on one gram of sunscreen in the morning, and after an eight-hour day of work with minimal time outdoors, the sunscreen had decreased by only 28 percent.
More ways to protect your skin indoors
Avoiding direct sunlight will reduce UVA exposure, says Dr. Agbai. When rays of sun start pouring in through the window, close the blinds or move to another area until the sun has shifted.
To counteract the harmful effects of blue light, choose bulbs that are labeled “warm white” rather than “cool white” or “daylight”. Consider buying a blue light filter for your computer to limit the amount of blue light emitted, and download a blue light filter app that tones your phone’s screen to neutralize blue light.
So how bad is it really to leave out sunscreen inside?
Eh, it’s moderately bad, but not terrible.
“Based on what we now know, light from electronic screens and UVA radiation through the window can Have an impact on your skin, “says Dr. Agbai. ”Wearing sunscreen inside is pretty important to staying safe and skin cancer-free – especially these days when people spend more time in home offices and less often on the road. ”
Let’s put it this way: On a risk scale from 1 to 10, where 10 sunbathes on a scorching day with no sun protection factor and 1 does not wear sunscreen in the middle of the night, Dr. Agbai the sunscreen indoors at 4 or 5.
Since it keeps you healthy and looking youthful and only takes a few minutes to apply, let’s say play it safe and put your SPF on!
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