The Super-Sneaky Ways The Sun Is Getting To You

(Illustration: Anna Sudit) 

The days spent at the beach without continuously lathering up (or spraying) your bod in sunscreen are over — at least, they better be! The importance of wearing SPF to protect ourselves from harmful rays, and keep wrinkles and premature aging at bay, has been drilled into our brains (‘cause it’s true!). 

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But, as it so often happens with healthy habits, once you adopt one, you find out ways you can be doing it even better. You may see what we’re getting at here: You need to wear sunscreen a whole lot more often than you probably do — every day, in fact.

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Those rays have devious ways of getting to your skin when you’d never expect it, even covered up! (Yes, even indoors.) Read on to discover all the sneaky ways the sun may be getting to your skin.

(Illustration: Anna Sudit)

At Work
You’re indoors all day at the computer (probably wishing you were feeling the sun outside), so you’re certainly not leaving the office with a tan. But, what you can’t see can hurt you — especially if you’re next to a window. 

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You see, the sun gives off two types of rays: UVA and UVB. Rebecca Baxt, MD, a New York City dermatologist, explains that UVB rays are the ones responsible for giving the skin a tan or sunburn. They are strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., less severe in the winter, and do not penetrate through glass. UVA rays are a whole different story. “They are responsible for changing the DNA in the skin, causing premature skin aging and skin cancer,” explains Dr. Baxt. “UVA rays are approximately the same strength from summer to winter and can penetrate through windows. Simply put, these are the true damaging rays.”

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(Illustration: Anna Sudit)

On A Cloudy Day
Don’t be fooled by cloud cover — you can get just as roasted on a foggy day as one with obvious sun. Probably, even more so, since you are less likely to put on SPF. “If you are working, playing, or swimming outside on a cloudy day, do not forget that sunscreen,” warns Dr. Baxt. “The clouds can give you a sense of security, but you can still be burned on a day with no visible sun.” Plus, those UVA rays we were just talking about can not only go through glass, but cloud coverage, too. 

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(Illustration: Anna Sudit)

On A Plane
Unless they’re treated with special solar filters, those damaging UVA rays can also sneak through airplane windows, says David Colbert, MD. They may be small, but at 20,000 feet you are a lot closer to the sun, thus getting a much higher dose. So, if you opt for the window seat for your next flight, apply a layer of sunscreen before you take off just to be safe. 

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(Illustration: Anna Sudit)

In Your Car
Even more so than on a plane, it’s important to be cautious in the car. Many of us drive with our arms rested out the window, and even if not, those rays are still getting in there. “There are many cases each year of people who get melanoma on their left forearm because they rested it in the sun,” says Dr. Baxt. “This is an even bigger concern for those who drive frequently.” So, next time you’re stuck in traffic, take that downtime to lather on a little SPF. 

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(Illustration: Anna Sudit)

Through Your Clothes
Even if you’re the one who always throws a beach cover-up over your bathing suit, the sun may still be getting to your skin if you’re not properly protected. The SPF of clothing varies from about a 4 with looser knit fabric to about a 12. We’re not suggesting you wear denim to the beach, but you can create more protection if you choose vivid colors. Who doesn’t love a bright caftan poolside, anyway? 

(Illustration: Anna Sudit)

In The Water
If you’re in the direct sun, Dr. Baxt recommends reapplying your sunscreen every two hours. But, if you’re jumping in the ocean waves or dipping in and out of a pool, you need to reapply every hour — even if you’re using waterproof sunscreen. If you’re on water — you know, boats, jet skis, paddle boards — be aware that you’re getting reflected light from its surface. For you surfers, always wear a rash guard. They protect you from irritation and from the sun. 

(Illustration: Anna Sudit)

Through Your Sunscreen
“You may think that you are protecting your skin by slathering on that sunscreen, but you need to take a few precautions to make sure you get the protection you need,” says Dr. Baxt. “Only a sunscreen labeled ‘broad-spectrum’ protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.” The SPF factor makes a difference, too. You might opt for 15 thinking you still want to get a tan, but with that you will absorb more UVB rays. “A sunscreen with an SPF of 50 protects you from 98% of the UVB rays, while one with an SPF of 15 only blocks 93% of those same rays,” explains Dr. Baxt. 

(Illustration: Anna Sudit)

On Your Scalp
You’ve got the right SPF, you’re applying it often enough, but are you getting it on all the right places? Melanoma is often found on the scalp, so be sure to put a little sunscreen onto the line of your part. Plus, a sunburn on your head is no fun. 

By Megan Cahn

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