Summer is here! It’s time to flock outside for your favorite activities and soak up some sun. As the weather warms up, it’s natural to want to get outdoors. The human body is reliant on sunshine—from healthy sleep patterns to helping our bodies make the vitamin D needed for normal bone function and health, the sun plays an integral part.
But too much exposure may be detrimental to your body. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can begin to cause damage—mild to severe sunburn, eye damage, and eventually premature wrinkles—in as little as 15 minutes. And according to the American Cancer Society, UV rays are the number one cause of skin cancer.
So, before you head to the pool, the beach, or even the garden, here are some tips to protect yourself from sun exposure.
Avoid Indoor Tanning
Indoor tanning is a popular trend for those who want to build a base tan before hitting the beach or pool. While tanning beds use specialized light bulbs to speed up tanning, they also deliver harmful UV rays—increasing your risk for skin damage and cancer. Instead of indoor tanning, get your skin used to sun exposure by spending a few minutes outside each day. This will reduce the risk of completely shocking your body when it’s exposed to sun for a longer period of time.
Wearing sunscreen is one of the most widely used ways to protect yourself from the sun. It applies quickly and is effective when used correctly. Sunscreen is measured by a sun protection factor (SPF) index. With SPF, the higher the number, the more sun protection it offers against UV radiation.
When choosing the right sunscreen, make sure to follow the guidelines recommended by the American Cancer Society—based on U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. All sunscreen products protect against UVB rays, the main cause of sunburn. But only products tested to also block UVA rays, also known to contribute to skin cancer and premature aging, can be labeled as broad spectrum.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30. SPF 30 filters out about 97 percent of UVA rays. And make sure to double check the expiration date. Most sunscreens are good for 2–3 years before they begin to lose efficacy.
- Apply sunscreen 20–30 minutes before exposure, and make sure to reapply at least every two hours—more often if you’re swimming or sweating. Water-resistant sunscreen is rated at either 40 or 80 minutes, but it rubs off when you dry yourself with a towel.
Even if you don’t plan to spend much time in the sun, you will inevitably be exposed. Protect your skin as part of your daily skincare regimen by adding a moisturizing cream or lotion with a broad-spectrum sunscreen included.
Dress for the Sun
Long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts made from tightly woven fabric provide great protection from UV rays. If this attire isn’t practical, a dark colored t-shirt or beach cover may offer some protection. But for the best results, wear clothing specifically made with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. UPF is a measure that determines how much UV radiation reaches your skin through the fabric. Specialty fabrics must be UPF 30 or higher to earn The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation.
A hat is another sunny-day ensemble must-have. Hats made from tightly woven fabrics can help protect your skin from UV rays. One with a wide, full brim is best to shade your face, ears, and the back of your neck. If you wear a baseball cap, make sure to protect your ears and neck by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
And don’t forget to protect your eyes from UV rays. Not only do sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays help to reduce the risk of UV-related eye damage, they also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.
Avoid Peak Times
Generally speaking, the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., even on cloudy days. So, it’s important to be especially diligent during this time. If you can’t completely avoid the sun, at least pack an umbrella with you to the beach or pool so you can stay shaded while outdoors.
From sunscreen to wearing long-sleeved shirts and hats to always toting an umbrella—there are ample ways to protect yourself from sun exposure. And this is far from an exhaustive list. Each can help to prevent sunburn, but they are most effective when used correctly, and often.
Practice these healthy sun exposure tips to safely enjoy fun in the sun for years to come.
About the Writer
Scott Pack is a health and lifestyle communicator for USANA Health Sciences, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. He holds both a bachelor and master’s degree in English from Weber State University. His favourite outdoor summer activity is exploring the many trails along Utah’s Wasatch Front.