Sun Safety Tips
Sun safety is the basic set of rules you should follow in order to minimize the damage you will suffer due to ultraviolet radiation when you head outside. Unfortunately, any exposure to UV rays is dangerous and the effects of sun damage are cumulative and cannot be undone. For that reason, understanding sun safety and actually sticking to it is important to reduce the risk of things like sun burns, premature skin aging and, most importantly skin cancers.
You Should Protect Against UV Rays Every Day
We have a bad habit of only thinking of using sunscreen on the sunniest of days and/or when we head to the beach. But the fact is the sun is always giving off UV radiation and we are always being exposed to it. It may be less intense on some days, especially in the winter, but it’s still there and it’s still slowly causing damage.
To prevent what UVA rays and UVB rays do to your skin, you’ll want to make sure you’re covering up as much as possible when you head outside. Protective clothing is always a good idea and this can include wide-brimmed hats, polarized sunglasses, and anything that covers your exposed skin. When you wear protective clothing try to include long pants and long sleeved shirts as much as possible. Obviously this is not what you want on a beach day, but if you’re working outside on a sunny day this will help prevent too much exposure to ultraviolet light.
Sunglasses are one of the most important pieces of sun safety gear that is often overlooked. People will put on sunscreen but not wear sunglasses which leaves your eyes vulnerable. They will absorb UV rays as readily as your skin. Not wearing sunglasses on a sunny day at the beach is like leaving half of your face untouched by sunscreen.
If you’re at the beach, consider using an umbrella, a tent or a canopy to protect yourself from the sun as well. The beach is often pretty sparse when it comes to shade so bringing your own can make a lot of difference.
The sun’s rays are at their most intense in the summer and during peak hours between about noon and 4 pm. But outside of those times it is still dangerous, it just takes longer. The problem is that people mistakenly believe they are not at risk if they do not tan or burn from the exposure, and that’s just not true. Because the effects of UV radiation are cumulative, you are always absorbing it and it is always damaging your skin cells.
Check your weather app or local weather report for the daily UV index. Anything above a 3 poses a significant enough risk that you’ll want to cover yourself and use sun protection.
The biggest and most important thing you can do to practice sun safety is to use the right kind of sunscreen and use it properly.
Use a High Sun Protection Factor Sunscreen
We have some detailed guides that will tell you the best kinds of sunscreen you can buy when you plan to head out into the sun. That includes mineral sunscreens, reef safe sunscreens, and powdered sunscreens. Any sunscreen is better than none so make sure you find one that works well for you. SPF refers to the UV protection if offers against the sun’s harmful rays.
A high SPF sunscreen is what you want to use, as well as one that is broad spectrum sunscreen. Broad spectrum means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If it doesn’t say broad spectrum on the label, it likely only protects against UVB rays. That means you’re still at risk of premature skin aging and some types of skin cancer as well.
It has been recommended by nearly all dermatologists and cancer organizations that you use at least an SPF 30 when you are going to be exposed to the sun. The highest SPF possible is generally considered your best option.
A higher SPF indicates how much longer than normal you can spend in the sun before the uv rays begin to redden your skin. So if you would normally burn in 10 minutes, an SPF 30 will give you a theoretical 30 times as long. But be aware that nearly every brand of sunscreen recommends you reapply every two hours, or 120 minutes.
SPF is determined in lab conditions. Outside under the sun, you may experience more intense UV rays and thus the SPF number will not be as accurate. Also, SPF is based on having your skin coated in a 2 mm thick layer of sunscreen. This is how sunscreen is supposed to be used. But research shows most of us use only about 40% of the sunscreen that has been recommended to achieve the SPF listed on a label.
Based on how sunscreen is used, an SPF 30 which technically would give you 300 minutes in the sun if you normally burn in 10 would now only protect you for 120 minutes.
Make sure you are always reapplying sunscreen as direction and try to ensure you’re using as much as necessary as well. This will greatly reduce the damage caused by UV rays.
Check the expiration date on your sunscreen as well. Sunscreen has a limited lifespan and will go bad eventually, but the date should be present on the bottle. If your sunscreen is liquidy, gritty, off-color or smells funny, don’t use it. Expired sunscreen is not reliable and cannot be trusted to give you the protection you need.
Beware of Secondary Sun Exposure
Direct sun is obviously dangerous, but be aware of reflected sun. This can be a big danger in the open water. If it’s a still day and you’re on a boat fishing, the sun beats down from above but will reflect off the water, greatly increasing your exposure overall. Sun can also reflect off of sand, snow, windows and even concrete in the city. That’s why it’s important to wear sunscreen, especially on sunnier days, even if you don’t plan to go to the beach.
Do Not Use Tanning Beds
Most of us are aware that tanning salons are not a safe alternative to natural tanning, but the industry still exists and doesn’t really advertise this fact. A tanning bed may expose you to four or five times as much UV radiation as you’d normally get in the same amount of time. They are great risk factors for the damage caused by UV radiation including skin cancer.
Try Sunless Tanning Alternatives
We have some recommendations for tanning lotions or indoor tanners that you can try if you want the color without the danger. Remember, these are not sunscreens and do not protect against the sun. But used indoors, they can induce the production of melanin in your skin and create mild to very deep tans without the risk of UV exposure from the sun’s rays.
Burns are not the only risk on a sunny day, especially during the brutal heat that can roll in during the summer sometimes. Make sure you stay hydrated as dehydration can become dangerous very quickly on the hottest of days. If you get to the point where you begin to feel especially thirsty, dehydration is likely already setting in and you should stay out of the sun and drink cool liquids until you’re feeling better.
How Much Sun Exposure Leads to Skin Cancer?
There is no solid answer to how much sun can and will cause skin cancer. That said, the more damage you receive from the sun, the greater your chances of developing skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70. More than two people die of skin cancer every hour. Having five or more sunburns at any point in your entire life can double your risk for melanoma. That said, if it’s caught in time there’s a 99% survival rate as well.
The Bottom Line
There is no way to undo the damage of the sun. Your only option is to prevent the damage as well as you can. That’s why you need to use a strong SPF sunscreen every time you go out. Make sure you’re applying it to areas like the back of your neck and ears where you might otherwise forget. Keep yourself hydrated, make use of shade and proper clothing to keep yourself protected as well. As always, stay safe and have fun.