Why You Still Need to Wear Sunscreen While Quarantining At Home, According to Dermatologists

Bras, makeup, and real pants are a few of the things I don't worry about while working from home. Unless a Zoom meeting calls for me to get dressed from the waist up, I stick to hoodies, sweats, and a bare face. That said, my makeup products are definitely collecting dust right now, but should I make an effort to still put on sunscreen?

As it turns out, I'm not the only one slacking on wearing SPF indoors. According to Nielson and NPR, sunscreen sales declined 2.7% and 17% in just the first two weeks of March when many people were beginning to adjust to our new reality. And even though I don't have a desk set up in front of a window, my intuition is saying I probably should be applying SPF every morning while quarantining at home.

To set the facts straight about whether or not you should be wearing sunscreen inside, I reached out to Dr. Marie Hayag, a board-certified dermatologist and sunscreen expert in New York City, as well as Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and senior vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Everything you need to know about wearing sunscreen indoors, ahead.

Do You Need to Wear Sunscreen Indoors?

The short answer? Yes!

"There are different types of ultraviolet rays that affect the skin,” says Dr. Hale. “We mostly talk about ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. People classically think about UVB rays because they are what cause sunburns in the summer time. In reality, UVA rays are what cause sun damage regardless of the season of the weather because they have longer wavelengths that penetrate through clouds. By similar logic UVA rays also penetrate through windows."

On top of the UVA rays coming through your windows, all of the work meetings, happy hours, and workout classes you've been doing over Zoom can contribute to skin damage and the development of cancer, too. According to Dr. Hayag, high visible light (HEV) such as blue light, can also affect sleep and eye health.

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How Do UVA Rays and Blue Light Damage Skin?

"Because UVA (aging) rays penetrate deeper into the skin and cause DNA damage, they break down collagen and elastin," Dr. Hayag explains. "This makes them responsible for accelerated photodamage including: wrinkles, leathery skin, sunspots and skin cancer."

And if you've been you've been using prescription or over-the-counter retinoids, taking an oral antibiotic like doxycycline for a skin condition, or doing at-home treatments like chemical peels, your skin is already sensitized to the sun. This makes the UVA rays coming through your window all the more potent and you may experience instant redness and irritation as a result.

While blue light is a newer phenomenon, there are reports that frequent exposure can contribute to pre-mature signs of aging. "Even short exposures of blue light can increase a generation of reactive oxygen species, which breaks down collagen and elastin, and cause DNA damage, leading to DNA mutations which subsequently can cause skin cancer and aging," says Dr. Hayag.

Over time, blue light can decrease melatonin levels, which makes it difficult to sleep and kill photoreceptors (light sensitive cells) in the retina, which are essential to see. This is why you've read about how you shouldn't scroll through social media on your phone right before going to bed.

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What Sunscreens Should You Wear Indoors?

Both dermatologists agree that a broad spectrum physical sunscreen containing zinc oxide and iron dioxide will provide adequate protection from UVA rays and blue light. "There’s new data that tints that are present in iron oxide which present in tinted sunscreen and even some foundations can be helpful as an extra layer of protection against visible light," says Dr. Hale.

If you're after a tinted product, Dr. Hale suggests EltaMD's cult-favorite UV Daily Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 40, a moisturizing formula that's safe for all skin types.

In addition to zinc oxide and iron dioxide, Dr. Hayag says to look for a formula that also contains antioxidants to block free radicals produced by UV rays and blue light. She's a fan of MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen, because it's lightweight and blends into skin without leaving a white cast, along with Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50, because it contains a plankton extract that is known to increase the skin's resistance to UV- and heat-induced stress.

Just like being outside, it's best to reapply sunscreen every two hours, however that's easy to forget given the current state of the world. To make things easier, Dr. Hale recommends keeping a brush-on mineral SPF powder at your WFH set up for quick touch ups during the day. She suggests ISDIN Isdinceuticals Mineral Brush and Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50. Both products have a mattifying effect, which comes in handy for all of those video meetings.

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Will Skin Be More Sensitive to the Sun from Being Inside So Much?

So, what happens once we're out of quarantine? Will be have to be even more diligent about applying SPF because we haven't been outside in the sun all that much for months? The answer isn't black and white.

"We know with chronic low-level sun exposure you do build a tolerance," says Dr. Hale. "People who work outdoors like farmers are exposed to UV rays every day so when it’s really sunny out, they don’t burn like someone who usually works indoors. So after hibernating all winter and even more through this quarantine, our skin isn’t building up a tolerance." That being said, when you do go outside, you might experience a sunburn more easily.

Unrelated to COVID-19, some people are prone to sun sensitivity and get rashes during the seasonal shift to warmer weather. "Dermatologists call it photodermatosis and there there are different types," says Dr. Hayag. "The most common is called polymorphus light eruption (PMLE) and it affects 10 to 15% of the population, more commonly in fair-skinned women."

PMLE manifests in a red, bumpy, itchy rash on the chest, backs of hands, and outer surfaces of the arms and legs, but occasionally can be more severe with blisters. The rash can appear in just 30 minutes of sun exposure, and typically gets better as the season progresses.

How Often Should You Apply Sunscreen Outdoors?

Apply a solid base coat of SPF before going outside and reapply it every two hours to prevent UV damage to your skin. On top of sunscreen, both dermatologists stress that it's also important to wear a hat, sunglasses, protective clothing, and to stay in the shade when possible.

For an extra layer of protection, Dr. Hale recommends a protective supplement like ISDIN SunISDIN Softgel Capsules or Heliocare Ultra Capsules. These products contain enzymes to help repair cell mutations from the sun. "The thought behind these supplements is that the enzymes will internally repair damage before it occurs," she explains.