One of life's greatest pleasures? Savoring a beautiful day outdoors—and all that it has to offer. During the spring and summer, nature's cues for us to head outside and take advantage of its gifts are hard to miss: warm sunlight, clear skies, and gentle breezes. As the sun's rays become more intense, it's important to make sun safety a priority while you enjoy the outdoors.
Sunshine: What's the Harm?
The Skin Cancer Foundation explains that the sun's searing light comes to us in two forms: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB rays are responsible for the reddening and painful heat of sunburn, while UVA rays have more long-term effects like wrinkles and freckling. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is also the primary cause of skin cancer. Safe sun exposure requires some very basic diligence to prevent the damage caused by excessive UV radiation.
Decades of squinting at the sun can also take their toll on your eyes in the form of cataracts. UV-blocking sunglasses are imperative to prevent damage to your vision. Also, a wide-brimmed hat can help keep UV rays from reaching your face. Your sun safety protocol should always include consideration for your eyes and the delicate skin around them.
Head, Shoulders, Ears, and Feet
Your sun protection arsenal likely includes a reliable waterproof sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) number. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with at least SPF 30, which means it will take 30 times as long for you to burn with that formula on than with bare skin. SPF can go all the way up to 50, 70, and higher—so get a robust bottle if you're prone to frying in the heat!
Despite your preparation, you might find certain areas of your skin sunburned after a long day of fun outside. How does this happen—and what can you do to prevent it?
Often, we don't realize when we've missed some of our most vulnerable areas when applying sunscreen. You might focus on applying sunblock to your face, arms, and shoulders, but forget some of the most common "hot spots" like your ears, neck, scalp, knees, and feet. Reapply sunblock often to prevent possible skin damage (and turning beet red). It's a good rule of thumb to add another layer of sunblock every two hours or immediately after sweating or swimming. Apply your sunscreen at least 15 minutes before basking in the sun's rays—and don't forget your SPF-labelled lip balm.
Head for the Shade, or Suit Up
Thinking of "winging" it by taking a chance in the sun without protection in the middle of the day? A sunburn can happen in less than 15 minutes and may not even appear (or hurt) until several hours later. Generally, it's best to avoid outdoor activity during the peak sunlight hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. if you are not using sun protection in one form or another. Your next option in solar defense is shade. If no shade is available from a nearby tree or building, use a towel or blanket to create your own personal cabana.
There are also a growing number of companies making sun-protective clothing, such as hats and shirts, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Many hats have longer flaps in the back to protect the neck, while shirt styles accommodate sunburn-sensitive areas with flip-up collars. Some protective clothing is even made from materials that are treated to absorb or deflect UV rays.
Thicker, tightly-woven fabrics like polyester, wool, and silk can also keep your skin moderately safe from sun exposure. When choosing your clothing for a day outdoors during peak sunlight, select long sleeves and pants in dark or vivid colors, as these tend to absorb more UV rays than lighter colors.
No matter where your summer adventures take you, be sure to gear up for proper sun protection. Do you have a favorite sun hat or a creative place for finding shade? Tell us on Twitter @TomsofMaine!
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Why It’s Good
It is imperative that we protect ourselves from the sun's damaging rays. The good news is that there are simple, effective ways to reduce our exposure by using sunscreen properly, wearing protective clothing, and seeking shade whenever possible.