If soaking up some sun is high on your to-do list, keep in mind that among those golden rays lies a hidden danger known as ultraviolet (UV) light.
You can’t see it, but the sun produces two types of UV radiation that can harm your skin: UVA radiation is what makes skin age, while UVB radiation is what makes skin burn. Both can cause mutations in your skin’s cells, which could lead to cancer.
UV rays are strongest midday when the sun is at its peak, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. But even on a cloudy day, they can find their way to your skin. It only takes about 15 minutes of UV exposure before damage can begin.
Tips for Sun Safety
So how can you enjoy being outdoors while still staying protected? Try these techniques:
- Seek shade. When you’re outside, stay out of the sun’s direct path by sitting under something like an umbrella, a covered patio, or a tree.
- Put on protective clothing. Many clothes are now made especially to keep you safer in the sun—look for the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating. Even regular long-sleeve shirts and pants can help. A wide-brimmed hat is also a great way to keep the sun off your face and away from easy-to-burn spots like the back of your neck, your scalp, and your ears.
- Slather on the sunscreen. Sunscreens work by reflecting, absorbing, or scattering light, giving you some protection from UV rays.
Finding the Right Sunscreen
If you’ve ever stood in a sunscreen aisle among the dizzying array of brightly colored bottles, you know that choosing one can be confusing. When making your next purchase, consider these recommended must-haves from the American Academy of Dermatology:
- Broad spectrum. This means you’ll be covered from both UVA and UVB rays.
- SPF 30 or higher. The sun protection factor, known as SPF, lets you know how well a sunscreen protects you from burning.
- Water resistant. Swimming and sweating make a water-resistant sunscreen a smart idea. A label of “water resistant” means you’re protected for 40 minutes, while “very water resistant” is good for 80 minutes. Continue to reapply.
When it comes to putting on sunscreen, be generous! You probably need more than you think. Most adults need about 1 ounce—the amount that would fit in a shot glass—to adequately cover their bodies.
Remember, sunscreen is important for more than just avoiding burns. UV radiation is a proven cause of common skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and the more dangerous melanoma. Skin cancer is highly curable when caught early, so check your skin regularly for any spots that don’t look right and see a dermatologist at least once a year for a full-body exam.
Need to find a doctor who can give you tips on everything from sun protection to all-around health and wellness? Our primary care offices are accepting new patients. Find one close and convenient to you.