Protect Your Skin from the Sun: Dermatologists Warn That Sunscreen Doesn’t Provide 100% Protection

Published on 04/06/24 at 13:47 – Updated on 04/06/24 at 17:30

As summer approaches, it is always important to remember the risks associated with sun exposure. In order to prevent skin cancer, it is crucial to reduce sun exposure.

Many people still believe that being tan is a sign of good health. In our region, Paca is the second sunniest region in France after Corsica. Beaches, parks, bike paths, terraces… are all crowded as soon as the weather is nice. However, it is easy to forget that the sun is not always our friend. Skin cancer, premature aging, sunburns… serve as reminders that we need to protect ourselves.

Marie Aleth Richard, head of the dermatology oncology department at La Timone hospital in Marseille, and Isabelle Nicol, a dermatologist in Marseille, emphasize the importance of proper protection, which includes common sense measures. They provide advice with some nuances, considering the benefits of sunlight for mental health or the issue of polluting sunscreens.

“Protecting yourself from the sun means avoiding excessive exposure,” says Professor Marie Aleth Richard. “Sunscreen was designed to protect against sunburns, but it has not been scientifically proven to prevent cancer risks. The only effective protection is to avoid exposure. The discourse around sunscreen is ambiguous. It only provides short-term protection and does not offer complete protection. It is not effective in fighting against skin aging caused by infrared rays, which it provides little protection against. We cannot expect everything from a cream.” “It can even be a double-edged sword,” adds the doctor. “Sunburn is a warning signal that encourages us to stop exposure. If we make it disappear or reduce its severity, we may be tempted to expose ourselves for even longer since the signal is gone.” She also emphasizes the importance of applying sunscreen correctly, every two hours, by slathering it on. Applying it in the morning before foundation is useless.

“Heliodegenerative aging of the skin is the gradual deterioration that occurs throughout life due to exposure to sunlight, especially ultraviolet (UV) rays,” adds Dr. Isabelle Nicol. “We see moderate to severe signs in people as young as 40. Many people in their fifties consult me for these reasons. They have been exposed to the sun a lot during their childhood or young adulthood. These signs are visible on the décolletage, regularly exposed areas…” The doctor emphasizes the misconception of “total screen” in the collective imagination, which does not exist, “we talk about high protection.” According to specialists, nothing can replace hats, caps, and covering clothing, while avoiding going out between 11 am and 3 pm from March to October.

Sun exposure is often unconscious. “Many people believe they are not exposed to the sun because they think it’s just sunbathing at the beach, but exposure also includes gardening, eating outdoors, walking…,” they continue. These moments also impact the “sun capital.” A vague concept that determines our potential resistance to UV rays. There are UV B, responsible for sunburns, and UV A, responsible for skin aging. In most cases, it is UV A that leads to skin cancer, but UV B is also involved. Therefore, protection against both types is necessary, by checking the labeling of the purchased product, its SPF (sun protection factor), and its UV A logo.

There are two main families of UV rays and two major types of skin cancer. “Cutaneous carcinomas (basal cell carcinomas), the most common, are increasingly seen in people aged 30/40,” notes Isabelle Nicol, “and melanomas.” “We have managed to reduce alcohol consumption, but not sun exposure,” says Marie Aleth Richard.

So what can we do? Stay indoors? No, reassure the doctors. “It is important to develop good habits from childhood and, as with everything, avoid excess,” they advise. And reconsider our relationship with tanning, which is still often associated with good vacations or a healthy glow. “We have managed to reduce alcohol consumption, but not sun exposure,” notes Marie Aleth Richard. “If you haven’t tanned, the holidays weren’t good,” is a common sentiment reported by Isabelle Nicol, who regrets that sunburns are still too normalized, even though they cause damage to the skin.

“The sun is good for morale, necessary for a certain balance, everyone interprets what constitutes good exposure,” she concedes. “Behaviors have changed,” adds Marie Aleth Richard, “however, while adults protect children, they still do not apply the same protective measures to themselves.”

Environmental impacts should not be forgotten. Dr. Isabelle Nicol points out the ecological issues related to polluting sunscreens: “Being responsible may mean not spending the day at the beach lathering on sunscreen. We can consider that we are sparing the sea from our creams. The choice is difficult between protecting ourselves and protecting our seas and oceans.” The dermatologist advises not to swim directly after applying sunscreen.