Safe Fun in the Sun

June 28, 2011
Hand blocking sun

Everyone loves summer, and there is nothing more fun than being out in the sun on a hot summer day. However, the sun can also be dangerous. Prolonged exposure to the sun is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Sun exposure can also cause retina damage, cataracts, and even immune suppression. The main hazard of sunlight comes from its ultraviolet rays, specifically the UVA and UVB rays. UVA leads to aging, and UVB leads to burning.

A sensible combination of sunscreen, shade and proper clothing will allow us to get the most out of the sun and at the same time, minimize our risk. First, sunscreen should always be used when you are going to be outside this summer. The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates use for children greater than 6 months of age. It should be rated SPF 15 or more and protect against both UVA and UVB rays. It should be generously applied to all exposed areas including the ears, back, shoulders, and the back of the knees and legs. Remember to protect your lips with lip balm containing sunscreen. Apply 30 minutes before exposure to the sun to allow sufficient time to interact with the skin, and reapply at least every 2 hours. If you’ve been swimming or sweating, apply sunscreen even more frequently. Adults should use about 35ml or 1oz of sunscreen to cover their entire body. That’s the same amount that would fit into a shot glass. Find a sunscreen that fits your budget so that you use it frequently and freely. Just because a product is expensive, doesn’t mean it works better.
Second, spend as much time in the shade as possible. This is especially important between 10AM and 4PM, when the sun’s rays are the strongest. If your shadow is shorter than you, it is time to move to the shade.
Third, the proper clothing will also help protect you. A hat should have a wide brim to protect your face, neck and ears from the sun. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun. Choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB. Clothing should be tightly woven and loose fitting, and cover as much exposed skin as possible. Just because it is cloudy does not mean that the dangers of the sun are not shining through. At least 40% of the sun’s harmful rays penetrate the clouds. Cloudy days can actually be more dangerous, since people may not be as careful to protect themselves well.
Be careful, and you’ll safely enjoy the summer rays!

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