False invincibility (invulnerability). American economist Samuel Peltzman discovered and described the cognitive bias of false invincibility, which states that people are more likely to take risks when they feel more protected (Peltzman Effect or risk compensation). This phenomenon manifests itself in various areas of life: when people begin to trust a salesperson, they are inclined to buy things they didn’t plan to buy; a person carrying a weapon behaves more recklessly, provoking aggression; even when wearing a mask, we tend to ignore illness symptoms and neglect basic hygiene rules, thereby increasing the risk of infection; a soldier wearing body armor moves less carefully and safely.
A similar effect is observed when we protect ourselves from the sun. The effectiveness of sunscreen is calculated for ideal conditions, but in reality, people apply it unevenly, rarely reapply it, and so on. Most importantly, when using sunscreen, people spend much more time in the sun than they would without it, feeling safe in the middle of the most aggressive rays. This is the cognitive bias of false security. That’s why, despite the widespread use of sunscreen, the incidence of melanoma has increased several times. It is worth mentioning that the false sense of security is also instilled by labels on sunscreen claiming to be “dermatologist tested,” while many sunscreens contain dangerous filters such as oxybenzone, which are endocrine disruptors. They not only reduce the reproductive abilities of marine creatures on the beach but also decrease the likelihood of conception by 30% in men with the highest concentration of benzophenone.
A similar story applies to sunglasses. They can decrease melanin production through central mechanisms, disrupting the circadian rhythms of skin cells. When ultraviolet light enters the eyes, it activates the hypothalamic pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) system and the retinal dopaminergic pathway. In the middle part of the hypothalamus, under dopamine stimulation, the larger pro-opiomelanocortin molecule is cleaved into alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (responsible for tanning), beta-endorphin (enhances mood), and gamma-lipotropic hormone (aids weight loss) simultaneously.
Very dark sunglasses can reduce melanin production. In addition, sunglasses provide the opportunity to comfortably stay under the scorching rays, increasing the likelihood of getting sunburned. A person without sunglasses will choose deep shade and avoid sunburn, photoaging of the skin, and reduce the risk of skin cancer. Therefore, false comfort increases the risk of sunburn.
All of the above does not mean that sunscreens and sunglasses are useless. They certainly provide protection. However, they also increase the likelihood of risky behavior. It is important to remember the basics: you won’t definitely get sunburned, and your eyes won’t be harmed if you simply physically avoid aggressive sun exposure, avoid sunbathing from 11 am to 3 pm (or when it’s very hot, from 10 am to 4 pm), use clothing with long sleeves and hats with wide brims, and protect your neck. When you are outside in dangerous sunlight, both sunscreen and sunglasses are appropriate (by the way, they don’t have to be black; larger ones with 100% UV protection are better).
Remember that avoiding light in the morning can disrupt circadian rhythms and impair sleep, and lack of sleep significantly reduces the regenerative abilities of the skin. Also, remember about photoprotection within your body using carotenoids. They accumulate in the skin and effectively protect it from the sun’s rays, and there is no need to reapply or spread them. Lycopene, beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, and others are abundant in vegetables and fruits. For extra assurance, you can take a 12 mg astaxanthin supplement for a couple of months (carotenoids need to accumulate in the skin for their effect, and it’s easier than eating red fish or flamingo). And for the protection of the retina from ultraviolet light (important for preventing age-related macular degeneration), we have xanthophyll supplements such as lutein and zeaxanthin (starting from 20 mg, just 6 mg reduces the risk of degeneration by 57%).