Daily sunscreen protects your skin from harmful UV damage, which can cause burns, pigmentation, wrinkles and even cancer. It’s one of the few products that’s necessary for people of all ages, skin types and tones, but is especially important for anyone with acne prone skin.
The sun emits 3 types of ultraviolet radiation (UV), but only 2 impact our skin: UVA and UVB. Our atmosphere’s ozone layer filters out UVC rays.
UVA rays are the longest and able to penetrate the deepest. They’re primarily responsible for what’s called “photoaging” or wrinkles, sagging, hyperpigmentation, leathery texture and more. UVA rays can penetrate through windows and glass and are present even on the cloudiest days. You can remember UVA is for aging.
UVB rays are shorter and impact the epidermis, or outer layer of the skin. They’re responsible for burning, delayed tanning and the primary cause of skin cancer, though UVA also contributes and exacerbates this risk. UVB rays can’t penetrate glass or windows and the levels can fluctuate based on the time of day or season, but they can still cause damage year round. You can remember UVB is for burning.
UVA and UVB damage is cumulative, so even if you’re only outside for 15 minutes a day, it can add up.
UV and Your Skin
In addition to the generalized risks above, UV rays contribute to and trigger many of the processes and responses in your skin.
UV rays activate your skin’s inflammatory response, causing swelling, redness and collagen degradation, compromising your skin barrier and inhibiting healing.
UV rays also trigger free radical formation, which are unstable molecules with an unpaired electron. In order to stabilize, free radicals steal electrons from your normal, healthy cells, causing a chain reaction of protein degradation, cell death and DNA warping, known as oxidation.
Finally, UV rays are one of the primary causes of hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. They exacerbate the process of pigment formation in your skin, which can be incredibly difficult to stop once started. Inflammation also contributes to hyperpigmentation.
Acne and UV damage
Knowing the above, it makes sense that protecting your skin from UV damage is necessary when treating and managing acne. First and foremost, UV rays impair barrier function, making it harder for your skin to fight bacteria, trap water and calm inflammation. (For more information on your skin barrier and acne, check here). Free radicals further damage your skin barrier, reducing your skin’s ability to fight and repair. Dealing with residual dark spots and hyperpigmentation from acne is hard enough and the sun only makes it more difficult (dare we say, impossible!?)
Another important thing to think about is the efficacy of your other products. Your skin is always going to try to protect itself from the sun first, so all its resources will be used to fight damage, not use the ingredients you’re giving it. Even without the sun, your skin can’t fully utilize any products with a damaged barrier. It may sound dramatic, but if you’re not wearing sunscreen, you might as well not use any skincare products. They just won’t reach their full potential. Plus, certain acne-fighting products can make you even more sun sensitive, leading to burns, rawness, redness, sensitivity and even more acne.
Your best chance against acne is a strong, protected skin barrier and sunscreen is your skin’s best defense. Look for SPF 50+, broad spectrum and reapply every 2 hours if outside.