Do You Still Need Sunscreen If You're Spending the Day Inside?
Stuck inside more than ever before? That doesn't mean your skin should suffer.
Practicing social distancing has changed a lot about daily life. There's been a collective pivot to working from home, homeschooling, and Zoom meet-ups. But with the changing of your typical schedule, has your skin-care routine changed as well—namely, have you gotten lazy with the SPF? If so, experts say that some of these shifts may have unexpected impacts. Here's what you need to know.
One biggie: People may be more likely to skip sunscreen if they won't be spending a lot of time outside. "But what if you spend the day working from home near a window?" says Michelle Henry, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. "The sun's UVA rays are very good at penetrating glass." Sun exposure is the number one cause of premature skin aging, and UVA rays, in particular, are linked to sunspots, fine lines, and wrinkles. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will offer the UVA protection you need. (Try one of these Best Sunscreens for Every Type of Skin, According to Amazon Shoppers.) The good news: UVB rays, which are the rays that cause sunburns and potentially skin cancer, generally can't come through windows.
There's also the chance that you do end up deciding to go for a solo walk, run, or bike ride. So long as it complies with your local guidelines, that's a good thing! "It's great to see people getting out of the house to exercise because this is a fantastic way to cope—exercise reduces stress and so does exposure to nature," says psychologist Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., a professor of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut. "But now, many people are doing it during peak UV light, which is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.—a time that most people are used to being inside during the week." Add to that: Now that's it's warming up outside, layers are coming off and exposing more of skin. Cue the sunburn. If you're heading outside, make sure you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 or above, says Dr. Marmur, who likes EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum 40 (Buy It, $36, dermstore.com). For a drugstore option, try Neutrogena Sheer Zinc SPF 50 (Buy It, $11, target.com).
But there's another indoor skin-ager you're possibly coming in contact with more than ever. The blue light that's part of the high-energy visible light (HEV light) spectrum that comes from your computer screen, television, tablet, and smartphone, increases inflammation in your skin, says Dr. Henry. That may lead to dark spots and melasma, which are brown patches—and all skin tones are susceptible.
Luckily, there is a way to protect yourself from those rays. Opt for a sunscreen containing the ingredient iron oxide, which is quite effective at blocking the visible light spectrum, including the blue light coming from your devices, says Dr. Henry. In fact, one study found that people with melasma who used a sunscreen that included iron oxides saw greater fading of darkened patches on their skin than patients who were using a sunscreen that protected from UV light but didn't contain iron oxide. Zinc oxide is often found in tinted sunscreens because it helps create a tint that counteracts the dreaded white cast or mineral sunscreen—look for a BB cream, CC cream, or tinted with the ingredient and an SPF 30 or above. "You can also check for a formula that says it offers full-spectrum or blue-light protection on its label," adds Ellen Marmur, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. She recommends Coola Full Spectrum 360 Sun Silk Cream SPF 30 (Buy It, $42, dermstore.com). There are also blue light glasses you can wear to protect your eyes and screen protectors you can place on top of your screens to block blue light from reaching your skin. "Dimming the brightness on your computer and phone screens or moving further away from them can make a difference, too," says Dr. Henry.
In addition to SPF, antioxidants are a second line of defense worth adding to (or keeping in) your morning routine. UVA rays, blue light, and even stress (something a lot of us are experiencing right now) can create free radicals, which are those unpaired electrons that ping around in your skin, poking holes in collagen and spurring hyperpigmentation. An antioxidant serum puts a stop to that. "Don't skip it," says Dr. Henry, who likes Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Pure Vitamin C 10% (Buy It, $20, clinique.com) and La Roche Posay 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum (Buy It, $40, dermstore.com). "Both are ideal for sensitive skin, so they're a good idea to try right now when we all want to reduce our risk for a bad skin reaction." If you continue the habit post-quarantine, your skin will thank you. (Related: This $10 Sunscreen Gives My Mom a Straight-Up Glow—and Drew Barrymore Loves It Too)
Bottom line: It's worth applying sunscreen each morning as you always did. Besides, Pagoto says, "re-establishing that daily habit can help provide a sense of control and predictability—and that's something we could all use a little more of right now." (Related: How to Deal with Loneliness If You're Self-Isolated During the Coronavirus Outbreak)