Summer sun protection
By: Jessica Woodward, M.D.
Summer is just around the corner, and if you’re like most people, you’re anxious to get outside to enjoy favorite activities that the warm weather brings. Whether you’re headed to the beach for a picnic, the backyard for a day of gardening or the park for a baseball game, make sure you remember to protect yourself from overdoing it in the sun.
The sun emits ultraviolet light (UV rays). UV rays are an invisible kind of radiation that can cause skin cancer. There are two types that can damage our skin: UVA and UVB. UVA rays are less intense than UVB rays, but they are more prevalent. UVA rays penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB and contributes to skin aging and wrinkling. UVA rays also damage skin cells, contributing to the development of skin cancer. UVB rays tend to damage the skin’s superficial epidermal layers and plays a key role in the development of skin cancer.
Even though Minnesota summers seem short, it is important to limit your exposure to the sun – and both types of UV rays.
The Center for Disease Control makes the following recommendations for protection from UV radiation:
Stay out of the sun during the time when the UV rays are most damaging – 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. If you can’t avoid being outside during these hours, sit in the shade. Choose a spot under a tree or under an umbrella.
Do not leave your skin exposed. Wear clothing that protects your skin. Light colored, loose weave fabric provides less protection than darker, tightly woven fabric. Sun-protective clothing treated to block UV rays is also available. There are also products you can add to the laundry that create UV protection for your clothes.
Wear a hat. For most protection, choose one with a wide brim all the way around so your face, ears and back of neck are all protected. Again, choose a tightly woven fabric for the most protection; avoid straw hats with holes.
Wear sunglasses that provide 100 percent protection from UVA and UVB rays. Wrap around sunglasses work great because they protect the tender skin around your eyes and block UV rays from sneaking in on the sides of your face.
Use sunscreen. This tip may sound simple, but it’s more complicated that one might think.
First, it’s important to choose the right sunscreen. Not all sunscreens are created equal. Opt for a sunscreen that offers “broad spectrum” UV protection. This means it will protect your skin from both UVA and UVB sunlight. Purchase one with and sun protection factor (SPF) or 30 or higher. The higher the SPF number, the more protection from UV rays.
Sunscreen products work in different ways by blocking, scattering, reflecting or absorbing the sunlight. Different chemicals perform in different ways to protect your skin. If you skin reacts badly to one product, try another or call your doctor.
Some experts recommend sunscreens that contain compounds that block the sun. They may be less irritating and do not get absorbed into the skin. Look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Both these chemicals serve as sun blockers.
Don’t assume your sunscreen from last year is okay to use this year. Check the expiration date.
Proper application is the second step in making sure your sunscreen works right for you. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out into the sun. Use an ample amount. Make sure you cover all exposed areas of the body, including tips of ears, tops of feet and any exposed areas on the head. Use a lip balm with sun protection on your lips. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more often if sweating or swimming.
If you are a parent, serve as a role model by following sun safe tips yourself. If your children see you practicing sun-healthy habits, they are much more likely to do the same themselves.
Finally, avoid UV damage by avoiding tanning beds.
If you or your child overdoes it in the sun and winds up with a sunburn, there are a number of things you can do to provide comfort at home.
Place cool, wet cloths to the sunburn.
Take a cool shower or bath.
Apply aloe gel to the burned area.
Over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can provide relief.
Drink plenty of water.
If your or your child feels ill, has a fever or if the skin develops blisters, seek medical attention.
Minnesota summers are short. No one wants to miss out on the fun of outdoor barbecues, swimming, hiking, biking or the myriad of other fun activities that are calling this time of year. Have fun outside and enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. Just be sure you do it in a safe manner that helps protect your skin from damaging UV rays so that you’ll be able to enjoy these short summers of ours for years to come.
Dr. Woodward is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.