Soak Up The Sun This Summer With These Safety Tips
Post written by Lori Groom, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner at Kansas City Internal Medicine
Oh, how we love to feel the warming rays of the summertime sun on our bodies! However, it’s important to remember that the warm feeling can wreak havoc on our skin, which is the body’s largest organ. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light can have damaging effects to our skin.
The National Institute on Aging has stated that sunlight is a major culprit of wrinkles, dryness and age spots. Excessive sun exposure is linked to skin cancers, which is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Three types of skin cancer are Basal, Squamous and the Melanoma, which is the deadliest. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime.
How can you protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun?
Sunscreen, clothing, lip balms, and sunglasses are all protective barriers from damaging sun rays. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.
Sunscreens come in a variety of applications with as many SPF formulations. Sunscreen should be worn by everyone over the age of 6 months. Children under 6 months should not have prolonged exposure to the sun. The purpose of sunscreen is to protect skin from Ultraviolet ( UV) radiation. There are two types of UV radiation, UVA and UVB. Sunburns are caused by UVB rays, while UVA rays penetrate the layers of the skin and cause wrinkles, leathering and other light-induced effects of aging.
Sunscreens should indicate the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) on the label. SPF is a measure of the sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from damaging the skin. For example, let’s say your unprotected skin becomes red after 20 minutes of sun exposure. By using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, you would prevent reddening 15 times longer, giving your skin coverage for approximately five hours.
Sunscreen should be chosen based on activities planned and length of sun exposure. Look for a sunscreen with broad spectrum protection. The following key active ingredients should be on the label: PABA derivatives, salicylates, and/or cinnamates (octylmethoxycinnamate and cinoxate) for UVB absorption; benzophenones (such as oxybenzone and sulisobenzone) for shorter-wavelength UVA protection; and avobenzone, ecamsule (MexorylTM), titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide for the remaining UVA spectrum.
These ingredients are essential to filter both UVB ( cause of sunburns ) and UVA ( causes of premature aging and skin cancers).
Look for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, which guarantees that a sunscreen product meets the highest standards for safety and effectiveness.
Sunscreens are not effective longer than two hours after application, so reapplication is necessary for prolonged sun exposure.
You should apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going out into the sun. When applying sunscreen, it is important to apply an adequate amount to cover all exposed areas of the body. One ounce, about the size of a shot glass is needed to cover the entire body. So for a day at the pool you should use one quarter to one half of an eight ounce bottle. Sunscreen should be reapplied after swimming, sweating and toweling off.
Clothing can provide protection from the sun’s rays. A wide brimmed hat offers protection to the scalp and ears. Baseball caps are not as effective since ears are left exposed. Clothing manufactures’ are now making garments with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) which indicates how much of the sun’s rays are absorbed by the fabric.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, clothes with certain qualities can prevent harmful rays from reaching the skin. Clothing made of unbleached cotton, high-luster polyesters, and thin, satiny silk can absorb or reflect UV radiation, preventing damaging rays from reaching the skin. Clothes with a tight weave or knit prevent penetration of harmful rays. Darker materials absorb UV light, keeping it away from your body.
It is important to protect our lips from sun damage. The lip is a common site for skin and lip cancer, primarily because of extended sun exposure. Early signs of sun damage are cracked, peeling, scaly lips that aren’t helped by lip balm or petroleum jelly.
This may be a sign of actinic keratoses. The condition can be the earliest stage of the development of skin cancer and has the potential to progress to deadlier forms of the disease.
Lip protection includes the following: apply a lip product with SPF greater than 15 every 2 hours. While in the sun avoid putting baby oil, petroleum jelly or high shine lip gloss on your lips. If you wear lipstick , darker shades provide more defense than sheer glossy shades.
Eye protection is as important as skin protection while in the sun. Prolonged UV exposure to the eyes can cause reddening of the whites of the eyes, in the same manner a sunburn occurs on the skin.
Over time, UV exposure can cause cataracts and macular degeneration of the eyes. The skin around the eyes will wrinkle more with sun exposure. Sunglasses should have the following qualities: large frames to protect more of the eye, UV 400 protection, impact resistant and gray and brown shades are less apt to cause distortion of colors.