Summer is on its way, and outdoor destinations from national parks to theme parks are calling your name. But to enjoy this season to its fullest, make sure to practice a healthy level of caution. Wear life jackets on watercraft, put your seat belt on during road trips, and, of course, remember your sun protection.
While sunlight is often warm and bright, it also emits volatile ultraviolet rays that can have a huge impact on our health, especially over time. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in America today, and a shocking one in five Americans will develop this disease before age seventy. But cancer isn’t the only risk you face when you venture into the light without protection. This summer, take measures to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays.
What makes UV light dangerous
Ultraviolet light is a form of radiation, or energy waves that penetrate the skin and potentially damage the DNA in cells. There are three types of UV light: UVA, UVB, and UVC. The third does not reach the earth’s surface, but the first two can be real threats because they penetrate deeper into the skin and are potent all year, even in cooler months.
Exposure to UVA and UVB rays can cause tanning, sunburns, and, worst of all, skin cancer—including melanoma, the deadliest classification of the disease. Cancerous skin cells are more likely to form on areas of the skin that tend to get the most sun exposure, such as the face and arms. In addition, UV light can pose a threat to your eyesight. The CDC reports that high exposure may increase the risk of various eye diseases and even lead to blindness.
How to protect yourself
As daunting as those risks may sound, defending yourself from the sun is actually pretty simple when you take these key measures.
Assess your risk
The health consequences of UV sunlight exposure are concerning for just about everyone, especially in the long, hot days of summer. However, certain people are at especially high risk for sunburn, skin cancer, and eyesight damage. These include anyone who:
- Spends a long time in the sun for recreational or work purposes
- Has light-colored skin, eyes, and hair
- Takes certain medications like antibiotics, birth control, and topical creams, which may increase sensitivity to UV light
- Has a family history of skin cancer
- Is over the age of fifty
If you are at higher risk of skin cancer, pay special attention to your sun exposure and discuss these concerns with a doctor regularly; you can also find a detailed guide to spotting signs of skin cancer on the CDC’s website. And be sure to take key measures to prevent the health consequences of UV radiation.
This reliable skin product helps prevent sunburns and skin cancer by either absorbing or reflecting UV light (depending on the product) before radiation can penetrate the surface of the skin. Wearing sunscreen every time you’re outdoors, even when it’s cloudy, is essential to protecting your long-term skin health.
But to experience these benefits to their fullest, make sure you and your family wear sunscreen properly. According to the FDA, both adults and children (but not infants) should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a rating of SPF 15 or higher to protect against UV rays. Follow the directions on each product you use, and be sure to reapply it at least every two hours.
You should also select sunscreen carefully since not every product is truly effective against UV light. Some have actually been found to have misleading SPF ratings. So before you head outdoors, consult with a reputable resource, such as Consumer Reports, for the best sunscreens.
Consider other UV protection
Protecting yourself from UV light damage goes beyond sunscreen. In fact, Skin Cancer Foundation reports that apparel is the most effective form of sun protection, especially for your eyes. Cover up in the sun whenever possible by wearing long sleeves and pants, a hat with a brim that shades your face and neck, and sunglasses.
Overall, you should try to limit your time in the sun, especially between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when sunlight is at its most intense. When you are outside, sit in the shade of a tree or umbrella whenever possible. If you or a member of your family is at greater risk of skin cancer, consider moving certain activities indoors when it’s hot; for instance, jog on a treadmill instead of outdoors or plan indoor excursions like a museum visit rather than go to parks or beaches.
Sunlight isn’t the only threat, however. Artificial light sources like tanning beds can also emit UV radiation, which means they’re not a good alternative to basking in the summer sun.
The perks of UV light
You don’t have to let radiation concerns deflate any excitement for your outdoor plans. If anything, this advice can help you enjoy sunlight to its fullest. After all, moderate sun exposure offers many benefits, including a significant mental health boost and the production of vitamin D, an essential nutrient. However, experts only recommend up to fifteen minutes of sun exposure two to three times per week. Of course, your outdoor plans may very well exceed that amount of light at any given time, especially during summer. In that case, these UV light prevention tips aren’t just encouraged—they’re essential.
For more info, visit skincancer.org