The summer months are here and the sunshine can feel so good. It’s the time to hit the beach, go swimming, take walks, have picnics, and throw Sunday barbecues. But before you start exposing your skin to the sun, you need to know that every sunburn you get means an increased risk of skin cancer. Sun damage can also cause wrinkles, dark spots, and leathery skin.
It’s not just on the days that you have a ballgame or go to the beach, either. You are essentially unprotected whenever you walk the dog, commute to work, or step outside to get the mail.
Keep reading to learn a few tips to protect yourself from the sun and prevent skin cancer.
Why Should You Protect Your Skin From the Sun?
The leading cause of skin cancers according to experts is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is of two types:
Ultraviolet A (UVA)
These radiations can pass through glass and likely:
- Cause premature wrinkling and aging of the skin.
- Play a role in squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma (skin cancer)
Ultraviolet B (UVB)
UVB radiations cannot pass through glass and car windows. These radiations:
- Can cause sunburn.
- Are linked to the development of melanoma and skin cancer.
You should take steps to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB radiation.
Tips for Protecting Your Skin from Sun Exposure and Preventing Skin Cancer
1. Wear Sun Protective Clothing
Clothing can provide ample barrier against the UV rays of the sun. It provides consistent protection and doesn’t wear off like sunscreen. High tech protection is offered by many new fabrics. These clothes offer breathability on hot days too. You should consider covering more skin by wearing pants, long sleeves, and high necks. In addition, using a hat with a wide brim can provide shade to your face, neck, eyes, and ears.
Don’t forget to wear UV-blocking sunglasses for protecting your eyes and the surrounding skin. While purchasing clothes, fabrics, and hats, look for the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) tag. This number indicates the fraction of sun’s rays that can penetrate the fabric. For instance, UPF 50 will allow only 1/50th of the radiation to reach your skin.
2. Use Shade as a Refuge
Think of shade as your refuge from the sun whenever you are outside. This is particularly important between 10 am and 4 pm since the sun is at its strongest during this time. Sit under an umbrella or awning and try walking on the shady side of the street. Duck under a covered porch or a tree at outdoor parties.
However, you cannot count on shade only to protect you against the risk factors for developing skin cancer. Some UV rays may still find a way to reach your skin by reflecting off water or passing through branches and leaves.
3. Use the Right Sunscreen
Sunscreens are available in many delivery methods and formulations (more on this later). It may take some trial and error for finding a brand you like. The best sunscreen is one you are comfortable using every day. It doesn’t matter if you choose a rich moisturizer with anti-aging properties, sport spray, or an easy-to-use stick. It is best to work with a broad-spectrum sunscreen that effectively protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Don’t fail to wear sunscreen even when it is cloudy outside. Up to 80% of the sun’s UV radiation can reach Earth on cloudy days. You may leave your skin open to damage by going unprotected even on overcast days.
Look for a sunscreen that says water-resistant. You should be able to use these while swimming. Reapplying is important since you can get burned while in the water as well.
Sunscreen products can be harsh. People with sensitive skin may prefer using products with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. You should apply sunscreen exactly as directed. Don’t forget to cover missed spots, reapply regularly, or apply liberally.
4. Protect the Little Ones
You should try and keep your infants out of the sun for the first 6 months to protect their sensitive skin. Whenever taken out, the baby should be covered by clothing. Use sunglasses, hats, and stroller sun shades. Sunscreen can be used on toddlers after the age of 6 months, but you shouldn’t stop using protective clothing and hats.
5. Keep Away from the Windows
UVB rays can be blocked by glass pretty well. However, UVA rays pass right through glass, meaning sun rays are passing through the windows of your home and car. Windshields can be tinted or treated for shielding drivers from most UVA rays. However, the sunroof and back windows are generally not treated.
You should wear protective clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses even when you are in the car. You can also have UV-protective film applied to all windows in your car and your home. This will help in blocking out the sun’s harmful rays. In addition, there are still the windows in buses, trains, airplanes, and your workplace that will let UVA rays pass through.
6. Don’t Use Tanning Beds
You should say no to tanning beds if you want to avoid getting skin cancer. Even a one-time use of an indoor tanning bed can raise the risk of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. In fact, people that use a tanning bed before the age of 35 are 75% more likely to develop melanoma. Many states have already placed a ban on tanning beds till the age of 18.
How to Choose the Right Sunscreen?
Broad spectrum sunscreen is your best protection against UVA and UVB rays. You should wear sunscreen every day and all day. This is even if you are not stepping out. The best practice is to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside. This will give the product enough time to bind with your skin. You should reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours and immediately after excessive sweating or swimming.
Active Ingredients in Sunscreen
There are certain active ingredients in sunscreens that prevent sun exposure. These are the two basic types of sunscreens available:
- Physical (mineral) sunscreen: These sunscreens include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They work by scattering the rays before the UV radiation can penetrate the skin.
- Chemical sunscreen: These sunscreens may include avobenzone and octisalate that work to absorb the UV rays before it has a chance to damage the skin.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
SPF number indicates the time taken for the UVB rays to redden your skin after applying the sunscreen exactly as indicated as compared to the time taken without the sunscreen. In relation to this, if your sunscreen says SPF 30, it would likely take 30 times longer for your skin to burn than if you did not have any sunscreen at all.
Factors to Consider
There are three important factors to consider while choosing a sunscreen:
- Broad spectrum
- Level of water resistance
Broad spectrum sunscreens offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
SPF 15 is well-suited for occasional exposure, like driving to work and walking the dog. However, you should look for SPF 30 and higher if you are planning on being outside for a longer length of time.
Sunscreens can be water resistant or very water resistant. You should understand that no sunscreen is waterproof. Water-resistant sunscreens can last for 40 minutes in water while very water-resistant sunscreens protect your skin for approximately 80 minutes.
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