Things have come on a long way in the last decade. We know, by now, the dangers of UVA and UVB and we’re more aware of the lasting ramifications of burning our skin. Rather than basting ourselves in tanning oil and crisping up in the midday sun, we’re realising it’s no longer cool to sunbathe unprotected. Aren’t we?
Well, um, no, actually. A new survey of 2,000 Brits from skincare brand EoS has found that we might be less vigilant with our SPF than we thought – and there’s a vital area on our face which frequently goes neglected. The survey found that only 1 in 2 of us thinks about applying SPF to our lips when we slather up, with 23% admitting they don’t think it’s necessary.
Given the fact that the skin on our lips is 82% thinner than the rest of our face and our lips lack melanin (the pigment which helps to protect skin from the sun), they are one of the most vulnerable areas in terms of sun damage. “Some parts of the body are more prone to skin cancers, such as the lips – simply because the skin is thin and they get long term exposure to sun, so it is important to apply an SPF to protect them from UV rays,” says Dr Firas Al Niama, top dermatologist and Group Medical Director of skincare clinic Sk:n.
“As well as painful blistering from sun damage, not protecting lips can also increase the chance of cold sores all of which can cause scarring and inflammation,” agrees skincare expert Marie Reynolds. “Hydration is also a huge factor for protection against peeling and splitting and SPF also reduces the risk of pigmentation of the vermillion line,” she adds.
However, interestingly, those surveyed admitted they were more likely to apply lip balm to repair burnt lips than they were to apply SPF to prevent them from burning in the first place.
It’s not just our lips, though. There’s a huge disconnect happening more generally when it comes to SPF application and while we seem to be getting the message about sun safety; like our sun cream, it’s not sinking in.
A 2017 study from insights firm GlobalData found that 73% of millennials admit to being concerned by sun damage (9% more than older generations), yet despite the fact we’re very informed, in practice, millennials are forgoing SPF in favour of building up a tan, with 58% admitting they believe a tan makes a person more attractive, according to a survey from BCBSA.
Amy Watson, assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University, believes low self esteem may be behind the problem after conducting a survey with her colleagues which asked students to respond to statements such as “I continue to tan knowing that it is bad for me” and “I feel unattractive or anxious if I do not maintain my tan”. The results showed an alarming 70% purposefully exposed their skin to achieve a tan.
So what’s the solution? More education is necessary. The fact that so many of us don’t realise that our lips need protecting is worrying. But, we also need to change damaging modern beauty standards. “We need to find new ways to entice people to protect their skin, including challenging the ideal of tan skin as a standard of beauty,” concludes Watson.