With Summer officially underway, millions of people in the Northern Hemisphere will take advantage of the warm weather to spend more time outside swimming, boating, sunbathing in the nude, golfing, etc. While recent studies have found that people have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to sunscreen, there’s another factor people tend to overlook: Clouds.
For the most part, people underestimate the power of UV rays on cloudy or overcast days. Operating on the assumption that the Sun must be visible and powerful to be dangerous, many eschew sunscreen on cloudy days. This is a bad idea: While it’s true that very thick clouds can provide some protection, it’s still possible to get a sunburn when the sky is 80% covered (or more).
People also tend to conflate tanning with burning, to their detriment. Since they don’t come home the color of a lobster, the thinking goes, the sunscreen they wore to the beach must have prevented them from getting a tan. This is false.
A sunburn is caused by UVA and UVB rays and are literally 1st-degree burns, similar to the ones you’d get by holding your hand too close to a fire or heating element. UVA and UVB rays also damage skin cells at the genetic level, destroying an altering DNA in a way that sometimes leads to skin cancer, the most common form of cancer on Earth. By wearing a sunscreen that boasts “broad spectrum” protection, you’re ensuring that your skin is protected from both UV rays for as long as the SPF indicates.
Tanning, on the other hand, is a completely different process. Darkening is the skin’s natural reaction to sun exposure – the body’s attempt to create it’s own kind of sunscreen. It depends on how much melanin your skin produces: Darker-skinned people tend to have quite the capacity for getting even darker, while fair-skinned types can’t tan much beyond their natural shade.
It’s entirely possible to get a nice suntan while wearing sunscreen – it’ll just take a little longer. Most times, people confuse mild sunburns as the onset of a tan, despite the two reactions being only tangentially related.
Don’t be dumb. Wear sunscreen.