Why Do Asians Use More Sunscreen Than Westerners?
As summer approaches, so do skincare challenges. If you think wearing sunscreen on hot beach days is a big deal in the United States, it’s even more so in Asia.
In Japan, China, and other Asian countries, people go to great lengths to keep their skin safe. When many people in Western countries have fair skin, why do Asians use more sunscreen than Westerners?
Keeping Your Skin Safe
Your skin is your largest organ, and it plays a vital role in immune function and keeping toxins out of your body. Sunscreen gives your skin the same protection it gives you.
The Fitzpatrick scale indicates your skin’s reaction to the sun based on six levels of skin types, from Ivory (type 1) to Darkest brown (type 6). Type 1 and type 2 people tend to burn more easily than types 5 and 6, which rarely burn and tan darkly.
While many Asian people have brown skin, East Asians often have fairer complexions. That means they burn more than South Asian people who are more likely to tan under the sun.
The lighter your skin, the more at-risk you are for issues like melanoma and other skin cancers. Does that mean you don’t need sunscreen if you have darker skin? No.
UV rays can harm you, even if you don’t burn. In East Asia, though many people have skin tones around 3 or 4 on the Fitzpatrick scale, the sun puts you at risk for skin cancer. Many Asian cultures are more conscious of skin protection than Westerners, which means they use sunscreen more often.
While the use of sunscreen differs between Asia and Western countries, so does the sunscreen formula. Sunscreen in the United States, for example, doesn’t protect you the way sunscreen from Japan, or even from Europe, does. The US uses outdated sunscreen formulas, with just over half the active ingredients in European ones.
Does Complexion Matter?
While skin protection plays a significant role in why Asians use more sunscreen than Westerners, that’s not the only reason they use it. In many East Asian countries, people want paler skin. Therefore, many people in these areas—especially women—will take greater precautions to stay out of the sun.
That’s the opposite of what you see in the United States. People flock to beaches in the summer to get golden skin. They neglect sunscreen when they go outside, and many people will even hit the tanning booth when they can’t spend time in the sun.
The difference in beauty standards between Asian and Western cultures also means skin cancer risks go down in areas where people use more skin protection. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, many Western countries rank in the top spots for the highest rates of skin cancer worldwide.
Other Ways to Protect Your Skin
If you plan to spend time outside in the warm weather, a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF is your best option. Still, it’s not the only way to protect yourself from harsh UV rays.
In Western culture, most people only use umbrellas when it rains. However, you’ll find plenty of people in Japan, China, and other East Asian countries using parasols on sunny days. Parasols offer shade on especially hot days, so you get to stay cooler and avoid getting burned.
You’ll also find people in East Asia wearing arm coverings—sometimes even with gloves. If you go this route, you should wear breathable fabric to avoid overheating. While sunburns and UV exposure spell trouble for your skin, dehydration and heatstroke can also have dangerous consequences.
No matter where you live, protecting your skin is more than a beauty standard. If you plan to spend time outdoors this summer, use sunscreen to keep your skin healthy and avoid the risks of fun in the sun.
Sarah Wood - June 8, 2020
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“What Are the Fitzpatrick Skin Types?” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/fitzpatrick-skin-types. Accessed 28 May 2020.
“Sun Damage: Protecting Yourself.” Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/5240-sun-damage-protecting-yourself. Accessed 28 May 2020.
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