It’s finally summer, and as the temperature climbs, we all want to get out of the house and enjoy the great weather. It’s time for beach trips, barbeques, pick-up sports games, hiking, fishing, and all sorts of outdoor fun. The shorts, tank tops and bathing suits come out of winter storage, and more of our skin is exposed to the warm summer air. Despite all the outdoor fun that comes with summer, it is important to remember that while the warm summer sun is drawing you outside, it can also potentially damage your skin. How do the sun’s rays impact your skin and cause damage, and how can you protect yourself from damage? Read on for some tips and techniques to keep your skin healthy while you enjoy the summer.
How Sunlight Can Damage Your Skin
Sunlight is made up of a variety of waves. One type of wave is ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet, or UV radiation, has a shorter wavelength than visible light, so it can’t be seen by the naked eye. When your skin is exposed to UV radiation, whether it is from the sun or from the UV lights in a tanning bed, DNA in your skin cells are damaged. The body reacts by working to repair the DNA and by increasing melanin production to reduce damage in future exposures. While the increased melanin production leads to darker skin, the skin must be damaged first in order for the skin to create the “tanned” look, so there really isn’t such a thing as a “healthy” tan.
There are two types of UV radiation that affect your skin: UV-A and UV-B. UV-A does not cause sunburn, but can provide some skin damage, including prematurely aging the skin. UV-B is the cause of sunburn. While sunburn provides some pain and discomfort, it generally heals within a few days. However, exposure to UV radiation can also cause long term damage to your skin. Studies have shown that exposure to UV radiation can result in several types of skin cancer. Protecting yourself from harmful UV rays on a daily basis is the only way to prevent these types of skin cancers over the long term.
Protecting Yourself from Harmful UV Radiation
The simplest method to prevent sunburn and long term damage to your skin is to avoid exposure to UV radiation. Of course, you don’t want to stay bundled up in the house all day, so there are some simple methods that you can use to reduce your exposure to UV rays.
Try to avoid being outside while the sun is highest in the sky, specifically between 10AM and 3PM. During these hours, the sun’s rays pass through less of the atmosphere than they do at the beginning and end of the day, and the UV rays are the most intense. If you need to perform strenuous activities, such as yard work or outdoor exercise, move those activities to the early or later portion of the day to take advantage of weaker UV rays and cooler temperatures.
Another way to block UV rays is to keep your skin covered. Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and wear a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off of your face. Your eyes can also be affected by exposure to UV rays, so wearing sunglasses can not only prevent damage, but reduce eye strain from glare. Wearing light colored clothing can also help reflect sunlight and keep you cooler, while dark colored clothing absorbs sunlight and can make you warmer. When outside, try to stay out of direct sunlight. Stick to shady areas under trees or awnings, or use a beach umbrella or canopy to block the sunlight.
If your skin is going to be exposed, applying a quality sunblock with a high sunburn protection factor (SPF) will block the UV rays before they can damage your skin. The higher the SPF value, the more of the sun’s rays that will be blocked. The SPF value is based on the amount of time an average person can spend in the sun without being burned. If it takes 15 minutes of sun exposure to get sunburn, an SPF of ten theoretically means that the exposure can be expanded to 150 minutes, or over 2 hours. However, this value is dependent on so many factors, that it should not be relied upon.
Using Sunblock to Reduce Damage from UV Rays
Using sunblock effectively requires only three simple steps:
- Choosing a sunblock. Choose a sunblock that has a high SPF, and is less likely to wipe off or be absorbed into the skin. Sports and sweat-proof formulations are best. It is important that the sunblock stay in place on the surface of your skin to provide the best protection. Also, choose a wide-spectrum formulation that blocks both UV-A and UV-B rays. Good ingredients to look for are zinc oxide, avobenzone, and ecamsule.
- Applying a sunblock. Sunblock should be applied before exposure to UV rays. Sunblock should be applied in an even coat over all exposed body parts. Using a sunblock with a spray applicator can help to provide an even application.
- Reapplying a sunblock. Sunblock is only effective if it remains on the surface of your skin. Be sure to reapply sunblock every 2-3 hours, and more often if you are swimming or performing activities that cause you to sweat.
Even if you aren’t planning to spend a lot of time outdoors, even small exposures can add up to damaged skin over time. Wearing a facial moisturizer that contains sunblock daily can help protect your skin. Don’t just limit application to your face, also apply it to your neck and décolletage area that may be exposed above your clothing.
Protecting your skin only takes a few minutes of planning before you go out and enjoy the great weather. Keeping UV rays from damaging your skin will help your skin stay healthy for years to come.