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Op-Ed: Everyone Should Wear Sunscreen. Yes, Everyone

I’ve always worn sunscreen in the summertime, especially when going to the beach or the pool. On a 90-degree day, I can have a sunburn in an hour if I don’t apply any. Back in high school and even in college, I had people tell me, “Oh, just burn really bad once, and then you’ll tan for the rest of the summer.”

That is simply not a good decision.

What about those with darker skin tones? They have enough protection against the sun, right? Yes and no. Michelle Henry, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, told Allure that darker skin types have some natural protection against UV light; the highest possible level is SPF 13, which is below the recommended level of SPF 30

Additionally, those with darker skin tones have worse outcomes when diagnosed with skin cancer because they are found at later stages.

My friends who would tan easily after getting a sunburn would put up with the pain and sometimes mild blisters to obtain the “healthy” glow of the summer tan. I put “healthy” in quotes because a tan is a form of skin damage and can increase your chances of skin cancer.

Tanning is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds that causes genetic damage to cells on the outermost layer of the skin. To prevent further injury, the skin produces melanin (the pigment that gives skin its color). This darkens the skin, and the damage is cumulative, which can lead to skin cancer.

I speak from personal experience.

I’ve had a carcinoma removed from my face, and I am predisposed to melanoma. I constantly monitor my skin and make sure there aren’t any suspicious spots. So, when people say to “get a bad sunburn once, you’ll tan later,” I look at the scar on the side of my head and figure it’s probably not a good idea.

It’s true that some people, pale or otherwise, go through life getting bad sunburns and never have any form of skin cancer. But it’s better to be safe than sorry – much like any form of preventative healthcare. 

The process of interrupting the fun of beach and pool time to apply sunscreen can be annoying, sure. However, the sun can be unforgiving, so it’s important to protect your skin, no matter your skin tone. 

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