Summertime is the perfect season for being outdoors, enjoying the beach, playing sports, lounging by the pool, and vacationing with family. For some, summertime means working to achieve the perfect tan. Whatever your outdoor pursuits are, learn the facts about sun safety and how best to protect yourself this summer.
Sunlight contains two types of ultraviolet rays that affect your skin: UVA and UVB. UVB rays burn the upper layers of the skin, causing sunburns. UVA rays penetrate to the lower layers of the skin where cells called melanocyctes are triggered to produce melanin. The activation of these cells is what causes your skin to tan. Melanin is your body’s way of protecting your skin from burning. Individuals capable of producing more melanin tend to tan more deeply.
But don’t be fooled, just because a person doesn’t sunburn doesn’t mean that he or she is protected from harmful damage to their skin. UVA rays might give you a nice tan, but they can also cause serious damage. UVA rays can penetrate all the way through the epidermis, (the skin’s outer, protective, layer) into the dermis, where blood vessels and nerves are found. UVA rays can injure cells, impair the immune system, and can also cause melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
In the United States, skin cancer is an epidemic, with 1 million new cases diagnosed each year. The incidence of new melanoma cases continues to rise. In the past, melanoma typically affected people in their fifties and older, but today, with the use of high UVA power tanning beds and sun lamps, melanoma has been diagnosed in teenagers.
UVA rays are not the only type of sun radiation that causes skin cancer. UVB rays can cause basal and squamous cell carcinomas. These types of skin cancers are typically found on the face and neck, they rarely spread and can be easily removed, although they often scar. Too much sun exposure can also cause the cosmetic problem of premature skin aging, making you appear older than you really are. If you notice an area on your skin that looks unusual, see your primary care doctor or a dermatologist for evaluation.
Here are some tips to enjoy the great outdoors while protecting your skin from sun damage:
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 every day, even on cloudy days and days that you anticipate spending much time outdoors. Wearing sunscreen every day is essential because as much as 80% of damaging sun exposure is incidental — the type you get from walking your dog or eating lunch outside. If you don’t want to wear a pure sunscreen, try a moisturizer product containing SPF.
- Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Ideally, it should also be hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic so it doesn’t cause a rash or clog your pores. Apply sunscreen everywhere the sun’s rays might touch you.
- Reapply sunscreen every 1.5 to 2 hours. The sun can break down the UVA blocking ingredients in sunscreen.
- Consider using a sunscreen with a higher SPF if you will be spending extended time outdoors.
- Reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating.
- Throw away and replace any sunscreen products that are more than one or two years old.
- Take frequent breaks. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. During those hours, take frequent breaks to cool off indoors or in shaded areas.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim and UV blocking sunglasses to further protect your face, neck, and ears.
Staying out of the sun is the best way to completely protect yourself, but who wants to stay indoors on a beautiful summer day? Balancing proper sun protection with outdoor summer activities is the key to enjoying the sun sensibly.
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