By Jackie James —

The sun in Arizona can be summed up in one word: intense. I don’t just mean the blistering hot, fire-breathing dragon-like heat, I mean the actual intensity of the sun. Sure, summer in Arizona is the perfect time to lie by the pool and hang out with friends, but while you’re out baking, don’t forget to protect your skin!

A rich, dark tan is stunning, but is it worth the cost to your skin in the long run? You probably aren’t thinking about wrinkles and sun damage just yet, but the more time you spend in the sun, the more harm you are inflicting on your skin. I get it; it’s hard to avoid the sun in Arizona—it’s like trying to avoid your mangy ex-boyfriend at a party.  To avoid him, you’ll grab your best friend and place her between the two of you, so you don’t have to get burned by getting too close to him again. The same is true with sunscreen—just consider sunscreen your best friend, your protection from getting burned again. While you will probably forget about him by the time school starts, your skin will always remember that terrible sunburn you got when you forgot to wear sunblock.

You might be thinking, hey, ‘I have dark skin, I don’t need to worry because I don’t burn,’ or that ‘it’s not even sunny out today, how can I get a sunburn’? Dark skin can burn and it does get wrinkled and weathered by the sun; it just may not show up as much compared to your lighter skinned friends. Think you’re protected because it’s overcast? Believe it or not, the sun is often at its strongest when it’s hidden by the clouds! All it takes is a minute of sunscreen to protect any exposed skin from the harmful UVA and UVB rays of the sun, the ones that can damage your skin. Apply it liberally whenever you plan to be outside, and wear a hat and sunglasses—even your eyes need shelter from the sun!

Think of it this way:  if someone gave you a gorgeous pair of Prada shoes, you wouldn’t want to ruin them by wearing them in the dirt, grass, or rain without some sort of cover; your skin deserves the same respect! While your friends may give you a hassle for not being tan, or for wearing a hat when you’re outside, you can amaze them in twenty years when they hit up Instagram and you still look super young!  As they age and complain about prematurely aged skin and sun spots, you’ll be looking fabulous at 50!

Think you can still get that tan by hitting a tanning bed? Tanning machines concentrate the UV rays directly on your skin, cooking you faster than a baked potato. You know how a baked potato looks—crispy and brown on the outside, with rough patches and spots? Imagine now that’s your skin. Same difference; dried out and brown on the outside but soft and light on the inside. Still captivated by the allure of tanning beds? Pass the sour cream, please.

Probably the most compelling reason to use sunscreen in Arizona is the rise of skin cancer cases. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. According to The University of Arizona Cancer Center, over 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. The good news: skin cancer is also the most preventable type of cancer, and the first step is slathering on sunscreen to protect your skin, each time you go outside. If you must have some color to your skin, check out a local spray tan center, like Palm Beach Tan or Celebrity Tanning.

Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is easy—as long as you are diligent about it. Incorporate sunscreen application into your morning routine, along with brushing your teeth and doing your hair. It will become second nature, and your skin will thank you!