Before you head outside—be it for a day at the beach or even a short walk to the office—consider this: People who use sunscreen daily have significantly younger-looking skin, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researchers divided 903 participants into four groups: The first applied a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher on a daily basis, the second applied sunscreen as they normally would (if at all), the third took beta-carotene supplements, and the fourth took placebo pills. People wearing sunscreen on a daily basis were instructed to apply it to their head, neck, arms, and hands at the start of each day and to reapply after extended exposure to the sun or after contact with water.
At the end of the four and half-year study, researchers found that the individuals who had applied sunscreen daily showed no visible signs of increased aging on their skin. The participants who only wore sunscreen some or none of the time, on the other hand, displayed an average 24 percent more skin aging in the form of dry, wrinkled, blotchy, and sometimes even crusty skin.
The researchers included the supplement and placebo to test whether or not beta-carotene, too, might lower the likelihood of skin aging, but those results were inconclusive.
So why was sunscreen so effective at preventing visible signs of skin aging? Broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF 15 or higher block out 93 percent of ultraviolet (UVB) rays and filter out UVA rays as well. In addition to being the major culprits behind skin cancer, UVB and UVA also cause skin to age. Translation: Block the rays, and you block the wrinkles and age spots.
Your skin won’t look young forever, of course. Researchers say skin starts chronologically aging around the age of 55 no matter what—but daily sunscreen use delays photoaging, which means your skin will look younger for longer.
“The notion of sunscreen preventing skin aging had been an oft-quoted beauty tip,” says lead study author Adèle Green, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of Manchester, “yet whether sunscreen could prevent visible aging changes in the skin had never before been evaluated in any randomized studies in humans.” The results confirm that sunscreen does in fact keep skin supple, and Green urges women to take advantage of the product’s beauty benefits by using sunscreen with at least SPF 15 every. Single. Day.
“The crucial point is to apply the sunscreen thickly and comprehensively and to reapply it every few hours to ensure it hasn’t been washed or sweated off,” she says.