One day you’re looking at gray skies, drizzle, or outright downpours, and then BOOM!, it’s spring, and there’s the sun. As you squint, rub your eyes, and reach for your sunglasses, you remember that in this day and age, more than ever before, you need to protect your skin from overexposure to the sun’s damaging rays.
As the American Skin Association emphasizes, it’s a fact—the sun’s rays are more intense than ever. The ozone layer has been thinning, and more of the harmful rays now get through. What measures can you take to reduce the impact of those rays? Read on for four important tips for keeping your skin younger looking and cancer free.
Tip 1: Stay inside or in the shade during peak intensity
Everyone needs to get outdoors, but during sunny spring and summer days, consider going out in the early morning, late afternoon, or early evening. Better yet, get outside, but hang out in the shade of a tree or sun umbrella.
The angle of the sun’s rays really makes a difference in their intensity. Sciencing explains that when the sun’s angle is closest to reaching a 90-degree angle—its highest point, or its zenith—that’s when the rays are the most intense. In the Northern Hemisphere, that time is at about noon during the summer. If you’re on daylight’s savings time, it will be about 1:00pm. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery recommends avoiding being in direct sun between the hours of 10am and 4pm.
Tip 2: Cover up with lightweight, breathable, UV-protective clothing
The Skin Cancer Foundation explains that the rays that damage your skin the most are UVA and UVB—the ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays. These are two wavelengths of the light spectrum from the sun that reach the earth’s surface. Until recently, dermatologists only stressed the dangers of UVB, and advised protecting against it. Now they realize that UVA is also damaging. While some ultraviolet C (UVC) rays reach the earth, most get absorbed by the ozone layer. UVC is therefore of less concern.
If you must get out in the sun, wear clothing and hats to protect your body from all UV rays (though beware that some UV rays can penetrate clothing, especially thin clothing). Today, you can choose from a wide variety of fashionable UV-protective clothing. Companies like UVSkinz and Coolibar provide swimwear, hats, and other clothing made of UV-protective materials.
As the UVSkinz home page explains, the incidence of deadly melanoma in teenagers has risen 100 percent in the last 10 years—yet 95 percent of all melanomas are preventable. They’re on a mission to make a difference with that 95 percent preventable group.
Tip 3: Never ever use a tanning bed
Speaking of preventable skin cancer—tanning beds are a big no-go. Tanning beds apply UVA rays that are 12 times or more as intense as that emitted by the sun. There’s a reason why your dermatologist warns you against using them, especially if you’re younger. According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, using a tanning booth before the age of 30 increases your chances of life-threatening melanoma by 75 percent! The World Health Organization classifies tanning beds and lamps in its highest-risk category of carcinogens. You wouldn’t smoke a cigarette, so why would you use a tanning bed?
For that matter, did you know that a tan is caused by your skin releasing more melanin to protect your skin from even more damage? Dermatologists see a tan and recognize it as a sign of skin damage. Fortunately, the more educated you get about sun damage and skin cancer, the less you’ll find yourself trying to intentionally get a tan.
Tip 4: Wear sunscreen… the right sunscreen
The truth is, when you’re out swimming, surfing, biking, running, or just hosting an outdoor barbecue, you’ll be out in the sun. You most likely can’t cover up all of your body with UV-protective clothing. This is where sunscreen comes in.
One important point to make about sunscreens—not all sunscreens are created equal. Even the brand names that you thought were great aren’t always doing the job you want. Some simply prevent a sunburn, but don’t actually filter out damaging UV rays. In addition, as with cosmetics, there’s little oversight or regulation of what is allowed in sunscreens. You have to do your due diligence when selecting a sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatologists advises using a sunscreen that’s waterproof, has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and protects against UVA and UVB.
The Environmental Working Group puts out a great review of the top safe and effective sunscreens. Take a look and find the sunscreen that works best for you or your kids based on how or when you’re planning to use it. It’s a great guide that gets updated each year.
Oh, and don’t forget to use a protective lip balm and protect those baby blues with a great set of UV-protective sunglasses. Here’s an extensive list of sharp-looking sunglasses that provide protection compiled by The Gadget. Just make sure they filter out both UVA and UVB.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Just develop good habits.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all that you should do to protect yourself from the sun. If you’ve already done all the wrong things, you may just want to throw up your arms in a gesture of defeat. But you can halt further damage—and that’s worth a lot.
You’d be surprised, too, how you can simply develop habits and teach your kids good sun-safe habits. Walking out the door to walk the dogs? Grab a hat, your sunglasses, and throw on some sunscreen and protective lip balm. Going for a swim? Wear your sun-shirt and slather on some sunscreen. Mowing the yard? Do it in the early morning—it’s cooler then anyway.
What’s your experience with figuring out how to take care of your skin during the hot, sunny summer months? Do you have any tips to share? If so, share them in the comments below.