Determining whether an area of the country is at a higher risk for skin damage and premature aging as a result of exposure to UV light seems like a pretty straightforward exercise. Usually, people consult charts like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s map of average daily sun exposure. Or, they will locate the regions which receive the highest concentration of sunlight, and therefore conclude the people living in those places suffer the most damaged skin.
But when the staff at Sunscreenr determines where to promote its products, we have to rely on a more finely-tuned process which relies on additional sets of data. In addition to the amount of UV light penetration in a specific locale, we also consider three complementary factors which contribute to the likelihood of the sun damaging a person’s skin.
First, we consider the skin color of the individual. Unquestionably, everyone is at risk to skin damage, no matter how dark their skin is, and people should not assume they are somehow immune to the sun’s rays simply because their skin is dark. By the same token, research demonstrates people with very dark skin may have a natural layer of sun protection equivalent to a level of SPF-11, which exceeds the level of UV protection achieved by individuals with very fair skin who coat themselves with a sunblock or lotion with an SPF level of 10 or lower.
In short, dark skin does protect the skin from sun damage to some degree, and the lighter your skin is, the more vulnerable you become.
Second, we factor in a region’s poverty level. When large segments of a community are struggling to pay bills and feed children, luxuries like skin protection are among the first purchases that fall by the wayside. Therefore, our belief is impoverished living conditions in sun-soaked areas definitely contribute to sun-damaged skin.
Finally, we factor in the “beach culture” or “aquatic culture” of an environment. Cities with cultures built on seaside activities and water sports are more likely to be inundated with reminders to engage in behaviors that protect and nourish skin. This automatically rules out a lot of cities in places like California, Florida and Hawaii.
In summation, we find the cities where inhabitants live with the greatest risk of skin damage will have a predominance of fair-skinned individuals, will be situated a fair distance from places where people engage in regular oceanside, lakeside, or riverside water sports and activities, will have an identifiable set of people living in adverse financial conditions, and will certainly be located in a range with substantial exposure to sunlight.
To qualify for inclusion on this list, a city needed to be an American municipality with more than 100,000 residents, and it needed to be in a state where the NREL finds the overall average sun exposure to be at least at a level of five out of nine. Then, cities close to major bodies of water or with identifiable beach cultures were eliminated from consideration.
The FBI’s 2017 census estimates were used to acquire the percentages of individuals identified as being “White” or “White Hispanic.” The White Hispanic percentage totals were taken as is, and the White percentages were multiplied by 1.2 and then added to the White Hispanic total. This provided us with a “Fair-Skin Index” for each city.
From there, we added the poverty rate for each city to its Fair-Skin Index total, and then divided that total by two. Finally, we added a UV-danger-zone total to each city based on its geographic placement on the NREL’s map. For example, a city in a level-six zone had two points added to its total, while a city in a level-nine zone - the most sundrenched zone on this list - received eight additional points.
With that in mind, here is what our internal calculations reveal to be the 10 Cities Where The Sun Will Age Your Skin The Fastest.
10. Colorado Springs, Colorado - 58.6
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jasen Miller
Straight away, our list includes Olympic City, U.S.A. which may lead to some head scratching on the part of people who associate Colorado Springs with winter sports, who associate winter with cold weather, and who therefore associate cold weather with a lack of sunlight. None of these assumptions are fundamentally true, and the fact that Colorado Springs is nestled at such a high elevation only serves to push residents and tourists even closer to the sunlight that beams down onto the mountains. In addition, at 69.1 percent, Colorado Springs also has the highest percentage of non-Hispanic whites of any city on this list, which gave it the highest Fair-Skin Index ranking of any city in our top ten.
9. Henderson, Nevada - 59.0
When the Oakland Raiders relocate to Las Vegas and place their practice facilities in Henderson, they’ll want to make sure they lather on a healthy amount of sunblock. While Henderson’s low poverty rate keeps it toward the bottom of this list, it has the second-highest percentage of non-Hispanic whites on this list, resulting in a fairly high Fair-Skin Index score. From there, Henderson’s position in a level-eight zone on the NREL’s map means its residents live in one of the sunniest places in the nation.
8. San Antonio, Texas - 61.1
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mike Norton
The home of the Alamo is the first of four Texas cities to make this list, which means there are probably a lot of Texas-sized sunburns out there. Compared with most of the cities on this list, San Antonio doesn’t stand out in any key areas. In fact, its Fair-Skin Index ranking was the lowest of any city on this list. However, San Antonio’s poverty rate of 19.5 percent was enough to vault it past Denver and the two lower ranking cities into the eighth position on our overall ranking.
7. Reno, Nevada - 62.6
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ken Lund
The non-Hispanic White percentage of Reno sits at 61.3 percent, and it propelled Reno to the third highest Fair-Skin Index ranking of any city on this list, just edging out Lubbock, Texas. Reno’s 18.4 percent poverty rate was actually average compared with many of the cities on this list, and its level-seven NREL zone score is also tied for the lowest of any city making this list. In other words, Reno makes this list almost entirely on the basis of the light, vulnerable skin possessed by many of its residents.
6. Lubbock, Texas - 62.8
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Stuart Seeger
The home of Texas Tech University’s “Red Raiders” is also undoubtedly the home to quite a few people whose skin has known the feeling of a bright red sunburn. Lubbock nearly tied with Reno for the third-highest position on our Fair-Skin Index. The only things keeping Lubbock from placing higher on this list were its level-seven NREL zone score and a poverty rate of nearly 19 percent. While these scores aren’t theoretically great in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t nearly as high as some of the problematic scores acquired by other cities on this list where the poverty rates are far higher.
5. Albuquerque, New Mexico - 63.8
Photo courtesy of Flickr user John Fowler
The Albuquerque Isotopes baseball team got its name from the fictional Springfield Isotopes featured on The Simpson’s. That team was ostensibly named for Springfield’s prominent nuclear power plant. The New Mexico desert is also the fictional birthplace of The Incredible Hulk, who was born out of gamma radiation. Unfortunately, the residents of Albuquerque are subjected to relatively high levels of UV radiation on a daily basis. Placement in a level-eight NREL zone, a poverty rate of nearly 19 percent and a 96.6 Fair-Skin Index score are enough to move Albuquerque into the top half of our list.
4. Phoenix, Arizona - 66.7
Courtesy of Flickr user marada
Phoenix is the city on our list requiring the most qualification. Unquestionably, it was going to make this list no matter what. In fact, sticking strictly to our methodology, several neighboring cities to Phoenix would have been strong contenders to make this list in their own right, including Glendale, Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler. However, nearly all of these cities are top-ten national leaders in terms of private pool ownership, with Scottsdale topping the list with a whopping 62 percent of homes possessing pools. To us, this qualifies as creating an “aquatic culture” even in the absence of a beach. In any event, Phoenix is a good representative city for the entire area, all of which is located in a zone-nine NREL region - the most naturally skin-damaging region of all. Also, the Phoenix area is home to the Arizona State Sun Devils, and that name has to count for something.
3. El Paso, Texas - 67.9
Courtesy of Flickr user Visit El Paso
El Paso regularly ranks as one of the safest large cities in the entire United States. Unfortunately, that safety ranking does not translate to safety from skin damage. With an overall White demographic percentage of more than 94 percent (80.2 percent Hispanic), El Paso has the highest Fair-Skin Index ranking of any city on our list that also sits in the NREL’s most unforgiving zone for sunlight exposure. This means there is a real argument for El Paso being the U.S. city where residents are the most exposed and vulnerable to the sun in the truest sense.
2. Tucson, Arizona - 68.9
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Daniel Ramirez
In essence, Tucson’s inclusion on this list was guaranteed simply because it shares many of the same elements that resulted in Phoenix making the list. First, factor in Tucson’s geographic placement, which is even deeper in a level-nine NREL zone than Phoenix. Next, add in a higher poverty rate. Finally, subtract the presence of surrounding municipalities which all rank in the top ten nationally for having the most swimming pools. As a result, when compared to Phoenix, Tucson is a city where the residents live with a slightly elevated risk of skin damage, but with even fewer cultural influences to offset the danger and encourage residents to protect themselves.
1. Laredo, Texas - 69.5
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Barbara Brannon
Unfortunately for its residents, Laredo checks every box on our list of indicators for sunlight vulnerability. Geographically, Laredo is a long way from any bodies of water large enough to make a difference under our methodology, and no, Lake Casa Blanca does not count. Laredo’s population is approximately 99 percent white (95.4 percent Hispanic), which left it in second place on our Fair-Skin Index. It sits squarely in a zone-seven NREL region, and its poverty rate exceeds 31 percent and tops the second-place city on this list by six full percentage points. All of this gives Laredo the unfortunate distinction of headlining the inaugural list in our vulnerability study.
In closing, while residents of the cities on this list may be at an alarming risk of skin damage due to sunlight exposure, everyone can and should take steps to protect themselves from the sun. Whenever you’re outdoors, make sure you wear the right sunblock or sunscreen, and you can drastically lower the rate at which the sun will premature age your skin.
- Laredo, TX 69.5
- Tucson, AZ 68.9
- El Paso, TX 67.9
- Phoenix, AZ 66.7
- Albuquerque, NM 63.8
- Lubbock, TX 62.8
- Reno, NV 62.6
- San Antonio, TX 61.1
- Henderson, NV 59.0
- Colorado Springs, CO 58.6