Why You Still Shouldn’t Skip Applying SPF Every Day, Even If You’re Staying Inside

should i wear sunscreen indoors

You may be mentally fatigued from being holed up inside, but there’s one organ of yours that’s most likely reveling in these time: your skin. While you’re social distancing and staying indoors, your complexion is mostly hidden from the harmful effects of your regular routine. Translation: your skin is getting a much-needed break from the intense UVA and UVB rays that we’re normally exposed to daily while commuting to work, taking the kids to the park, or stepping outside for a lunch break. 

That said, although your skin isn’t getting as much sun as usual while hunkering down at home, it’s still getting some mild exposure. So, do you still need to wear SPF, even when staying indoors, or is this a time that you can give your skin a break? Here, three dermatologists share their advice on practicing safe sun while indoors, including recommendations for sunscreen.

Do you need to wear SPF indoors?

Believe it or not, yes — you should always be wearing sunscreen, both indoors and outside, for several reasons. The first reason: your windows aren’t protecting you as much as you’d think. “When you are indoors, you can still experience UV damage through the window,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “While most windows do protect against UVB penetration, up to 75% of UVA rays can pass through window glass, contributing to skin aging and increasing your risk of skin cancer.” Applying sunscreen daily indoors is important for everyone, but it can be especially important for those with skin conditions that may make them even more sensitive to UV light, such as lupus, photosensitivity disorders, or rosacea, according to Dr. Garshick. 

The second reason — although less clear-cut — is that UVA rays can come from sources other than your window. “Indirect exposure happens when UV rays bounce off furniture in your home, and this can also affect your skin, although to a lesser extent,” explains Orit Markowitz, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. 

Lastly, you honestly never know when you might have to go outside for something. “For example, walking to and from your car can expose you to harmful rays that can accumulate over time and damage your skin,” warns Dr. Markowitz.

If you aren’t getting that much sun while staying indoors all day, does it matter what number SPF you apply? 

According to Dr. Markowitz, it does. “SPF is based on the number of minutes worn,” she explains. For example, if you’re wearing an SPF 30, that translates into being able to stay out in the sun for 30 times longer than if you weren’t wearing any. “I recommend applying broad spectrum protection with at least SPF 30 every two hours to individuals who are indoors in direct sunlight.” She also recommends using physical blockers — clothing — and mineral sunscreen to help increase your protection against UVA and UVB rays. “The Blue Lizard® Face Mineral-Based Sunscreen SPF 30+ is a favorite of mine,” she shares. “In general, I like mineral blockers, because they help protect against every ray.” 

If you aren’t going to be in direct sunlight while indoors all day, Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco, recommends applying sunscreen in the morning after washing your face if you are not going outdoors. “For a proper morning skincare routine, you should be washing your face, applying an antioxidant, applying a serum (like a hyaluronic acid serum), applying a moisturizer, then sunscreen, then makeup,” she says. 

Is SPF in your makeup enough to protect you against UVA/UVB damage while indoors?

Dr. Campbell says no, because most makeup doesn’t contain mineral-based SPF, but is instead chemical-based. If your makeup does contain mineral sunscreen, you’re set. “Otherwise, you are better off applying a mineral-based sunscreen (containing zinc and titanium) that has nanoparticles — small particles that rub in clear, rather than leaving a white hue to the skin, like most larger particle mineral sunscreens,” she says. (Learn more about combining sunscreen and makeup here.)

How can you protect yourself against blue light while working inside all day?

When it comes to working indoors all day, UVA/UVB might be the least of your worries in terms of light exposure — your tech devices are more troublesome. “We are learning more about the impact of blue light, or high-energy visible light (HEV), and its impact on the skin,” says Dr. Garshick. Blue light is emitted from your modern technology — including televisions, laptops, tablets, and phones — and it may contribute to signs of aging, such as hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. 

Not only can blue light affect your dermis, but it might actually be more harmful than we once thought. “Although the impact is not fully known, a small study suggested that exposure to blue light might stimulate the production of free radicals in skin, which can accelerate the appearance of aging,” says Dr. Garshick. “Another study found that exposing skin to blue light led to more pigmentation in some individuals.”

While these studies are small, Garshick notes that it’s important to consider the impact of blue light (especially now, with prolonged periods of screentime!) and to use a sunscreen that will also protect you from blue light. “Although physical blockers, such as zinc- or titanium-based sunscreens, can help block some visible light, it is helpful to look for products that include specific protection against blue light,” she says. Note that not all sunscreens have this capability, so keep an eye out for particular HEV-fighting ingredients, such as iron oxide (which can be found in some tinted mineral sunscreens) and antioxidants (to fend off free radical damage from blue light). In particular, Garshick is fond of Supergoop!® Unseen Sunscreen® SPF 40 ($34), because it’s lightweight, oil-free, and contains red algae to help provide protection against harmful rays. 

Lastly, though you should be protecting your skin from the sun even while indoors, Dr. Markowitz reminds us that sunlight is still important: It increases serotonin, which makes us happy and promotes wakefulness. “If indoors, you don’t need to hide in a dark room — just make sure you apply your SPF,” she says. Plus, don’t let the concern of HEV exposure keep you from talking to your friends, family, and loved ones on FaceTime® or Skype®. Trust us — your skin can handle a little blue light if it means bringing more positive light to your soul during this difficult time indoors.

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