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Wear Sunscreen: New Study Reveals Amazing Benefits

Sunscreen stops skin aging, according to an Australian study.

The Fountain of Youthful Skin exists, and it is called “sunscreen.”

In a long-term study to explore how diligent, daily use of sunscreen would affect the photo-aging of skin, Australian researchers recruited 900 white people, ages 25-55. One group used their normal sunscreen routine, however haphazard or conscientious (It was considered unethical to ask them to stop using sunscreen altogether). The other group was given specific instructions to use sunscreen daily, including when to re-apply and how much to use; they were then monitored to see if they'd followed up. Both groups were followed for an amazingly long 4 1/2 years.

Silicone casts were taken of the skin at the beginning and end of the experiment. On a scale of skin aging ranging from 0-6, with 6 being the worst aging, both groups initially scored a 4. After 4 1/2 years, independent raters who examined the skin of all participants could discern no aging of the skin in the daily sunscreen use group. Their skin was clearly more resilient, smoother, and elastic and less wrinkled and sagging than those in the control group. Their skin retained its “4” rating, while the control group’s skin was rated a “5.” Had the control group not used any sunscreen, the difference between the two groups might have been even more pronounced.

OUCH! Credit:

What better reason to use sunscreen than skin that is eternally youthful-looking? Oh wait, maybe there is one better reason—reduce the risk of deadly cancers such as melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. Because of the focus on breast cancer and prostate cancer, you might not realize that skin cancer is actually the most common form of cancer in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, “More than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed each year, while more than 76,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.” (For the arguments against sunscreen, see below at end of blog.)

So now you have the perfect combination of motivators for daily sunscreen use—youthful skin (beauty) and preventing cancer (health). But how do you make yourself follow through? A study from 2013 discovered that in the U.S. only about 14 % of men and 30% of women apply sunscreen to exposed skin each day. To join the healthy skin club, use this step-by-step list of suggestions:

1. Know your motivator! Write down your motivator(s) in your own words (or images) and paste them on your bathroom mirror. You can use this sign as inspiration and also as a cue to start your new sunscreen routine.

2. Buy sunscreen. Use an SPF15 or more and make sure your sunscreen blocks both the aging rays (UVA) and burning rays (UVB) of the sun. Buy a tube for each bathroom, your purse, your office, and your car. That way, if you forget, you can correct your mistake.

3. Apply every morning. And I mean every morning. The more you make sunscreen a daily habit, the easier it will be to remember. As the saying goes, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” With enough practice, your neurons in charge of sunscreen application will learn to operate automatically. Remember to apply to any exposed body part, including your face, ears, neck, arms, and hands. (For specific use guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology, click here.)

4. DON’T conduct an inner debate—“Well, let’s see--the weather forecast says cloudy and rainy so maybe I could skip it.” No, you can’t, because the sun’s rays penetrate even on damp and cloudy days. Moreover, this kind of decision-making will sap your willpower. Just create the daily sunscreen habit and after a few weeks, you won’t even need willpower. You’ll operate on automatic pilot—and succeed by force of habit.

5. Plan for setbacks. You’ve already strategically placed sunscreen in car, office, and purse. Keep a hat handy as well. Then you can...

6. “Slip, slop, slap, and wrap.” This is the American Cancer Society’s formula for cancer prevention. It means: Slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses to prevent eye damage. If you intend to go outside at mid-day, re-apply sunscreen, wear a hat, and wear protective clothing.

7. Fight the idea that “tan is beautiful.” Tanning damages skin and increases cancer risk. Remember your goals—youthful skin and health—and begin to associate tanning with wrinkles, aging, and disease. Needless to say, avoid tanning beds. Some experts blame tanning bed use for the dramatic rise in skin cancers among young women.

8. Give your car some sunscreen. To prevent “trucker’s skin” on your left arm, tint your car windows to add an additional layer of protection.

9. Reward yourself. Look at your smooth, beautiful skin often. Savor it. Then slather on more sunscreen.

Those of us over 55 may not get all the benefits of sunscreen that younger people do, but we will get some. Unfortunately, some of us may already have skin that is damaged beyond repair, having come of age in the pre-sunscreen era. Young people, save yourselves from our fate! Wear sunscreen—and read the delightful essay of the same name by columnist Mary Schmich (below).

© Meg Selig

(There is a counter-argument. Some scientists believe that sun exposure is a beneficial source of vitamin D which the skin produces in response to ultraviolet (UV) light. They recommend 5-10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure 2-3 times/week. Dermatologists, however, argue that most people will get plenty of vitamin D from ambient sunlight and foods such as fatty fish and milk. For vitamin D insurance, take an 800 IU supplement daily. To view articles laying out the pros and cons of sunscreen use, see here and here.)


“Mary Schmich.”…

“There’s proof: Sunscreen reduces skin aging.”

“Slathering on Sunscreen Shows Results,”

American Cancer Society Skin Cancer Prevention Activities,

“Less than 10% of Americans...” Duhigg, Charles, The Power of Habit (Random House, 2012).

I'm the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). Follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

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