Even though for millions of people the lure of the summer sun proves irresistible, the threat of skin damage is never something to take lightly. Enjoying the great outdoors means taking ample precautions, for yourself as well as your family.
When to Avoid The Sun, and When to Cover Up
Skin care experts recommend staying out of direct summertime sunlight between the hours of 10 AM until 4 PM, when the most amount of solar radiation reaches the Earth’s surface. When moving around outside, stay to the shade as much as possible.
Wear sunglasses, not just to shield your eyes from the glare but also to protect your eyelids and eye lenses from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunglasses can block as much as 80 percent of harmful rays.
Experts also recommend wearing protective covering, including sleeves, hats, caps and visors to protect as much of the skin as possible. Children and those with very fair-skin are at a higher risk of contracting skin cancer and are encouraged to cover up as much as possible.
Use Sunscreen Early, Use Often
The American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. They also recommend using such lotions, sprays, and other formulas frequently and thoroughly – at least every two hours, and even on cloudy days or when standing on sand or pavement or under shade.
Apply the sunscreen to clean skin about 30 minutes before going outdoors, and immediately after swimming or after profuse sweating. Parents should consult a doctor before applying sunscreen to babies aged six months and younger. People with fair skin or a family history of skin problems should use sunscreens with a higher SPF, as should anyone expecting prolonged exposure to the sun or intense exposure (working outside all day, working near reflective surfaces).
Unfortunately, not all sunscreens are created equal. Make sure to use a broadband (or broad-spectrum) variety that protects against both kinds of harmful UV rays: Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB).
How Do UVA and UVB Rays Affect the Body?
Exposure to UV radiation has also been linked to premature aging, melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer, cataracts and other eye problems, and even immune system suppression.
Levels of ultraviolet radiation change daily depending on weather patterns and the Earth’s position relative to the sun. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes a UV index that measures the amount of ultraviolet radiation in local areas on a daily basis. Results range from zero (no danger) to 11+. The EPA’s daily results are available at their UV Index Web page.
What Does SPF Mean? What Does It Measure?
SPF measures protection against only UVB rays, and as yet there’s no reliable means of determining UVA blockage. Researchers determine a sunscreen’s SPF by measuring how long it takes treated skin to burn compared to skin that hasn’t used the tested sunscreen.
Keep in mind there’s no universal agreement about how much or how powerful a sunscreen to use. For example, a SPF 60 sunscreen isn’t necessarily twice as good as a SPF 30, depending on your skin sensitivity, how much you use or how often you use it.
Sunscreens also have an expiration date, usually about three years from the time of its manufacture.
Different Sunscreen Forms For Different People
Creams, sprays, waxes and powders all work more or less equally well – so long as they boast an adequate SPF. Water-resistant sunscreens will also help retain protection after swimming or sweating.
Doctors recommend creams for patients with dry skin, and that people who are sensitive to skin care products avoid sunscreens that include oxybenzone.
What Are “Inorganic” Sunscreens?
Mineral-based sunscreens, sometimes called “inorganic sunscreens,” use zinc oxide and titanium oxide to protect the skin without penetrating it. These provide an alternative for people with sensitive skin yet remain as effective as other kinds of sunscreens.
Of course, sometimes the best efforts aren’t enough. Watch next week for our guide to treating and dealing with sunburns.