Living in California, I have a lot of friends who are self-proclaimed “sun worshipers.” I was one of them too, back in high school. We used to spend every minute of the summer laying on the beach trying to get as tan as humanly possible. Sunscreen wasn't ever on our minds, and I got burned, a lot. It wasn't until a couple years ago, when I had a suspicious mole removed, that I started paying attention to the real harm sun exposure can cause. I've written this post to give you the facts about sun exposure so you can be a pro at sun protection.
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First, it’s important to understand the two types of rays emitted by the sun. There are ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Both are not your friend for different reasons, of course. The UVA rays cause skin damage in the form of aging. While UVB rays cause sunburn and can lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, and UV exposure is the most preventable cause. This is why it is so important to protect ourselves from the sun and take the proper precautions.
Here are some easy skin cancer prevention tips to follow while out and about this summer:
- Hats- it’s a good idea to always wear a hat when you're outside in the sun. The wider the brim the better. I like to carry around a baseball cap in my purse or car so I always have it nearby if I get caught in the sun.
- Shade- it’s your friend. When you’re in for a sunny day, make sure you have some shade nearby. You can either post up there, or pop in and out. That way you can enjoy the fun and prevent a sunburn.
- Sunglasses- they make you look cool and protect your eyes! Win-win. Also, if they're big, they'll protect more of that gorgeous face of yours!
- Protective clothing- yes, they make UV protective clothing. You don’t have to go that far though. You can just wear a long sleeve or a cover up so the sun doesn’t get ya!
- Sunscreen- here’s an obvious one! But, it’s not always easy to pick the right sunscreen or even know what all the stuff on the bottle means. Let me break it down for you:
What does SPF stand for?
SPF is an acronym that’s on every bottle of sunscreen. It stands for Sun Protection Factor. It’s important to note here that we all have different tolerances to the sun. Personally, I will burn after about 15 mins of direct sunlight (thank you, Irish ancestors). So you have to know what your normal sun tolerance is before you can determine the SPF that will help you most. Ok, so if your sunscreen has an SPF of 15 it will allow you to be in the sun without getting burned 15 times longer than you could normally. Now, that’s when you’re not in the water or sweating. Which is very unlikely when you are in direct sunlight. Apply and re-apply often, at least every 2 hours. The FDA and CDC recommend using an SPF of 15 or higher, while the American Academy of Dermatologists recommends SPF 30 or higher. My Irish-ness recommends SPF 50, but I'll let you decide for yourself.
What's the difference between "water resistant" & "very water resistant"?
Here's a couple phrases you'll see on some bottles. “Water resistant,” means up to 40 minutes of protection in water. “Very water resistant,” means up to 80 mins of protection in water.
How to apply sunscreen
Once you decide on your preferred SPF, make sure you apply enough. Dermatologists suggest one ounce or a shot glass sized amount to cover your exposed areas. My rule is that you can’t have too much, but you can definitely have too little. You’ll want to apply your sunscreen to dry skin at least 15 minutes before any exercise or water activities.
The FDA regulates the ingredients in sunscreen. If you have sensitive skin, like me, look for lotions containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are hypoallergenic ingredients, so they won’t irritate you as much. However, these mineral sunscreens don’t protect as well as chemical sunscreens. The plus to mineral screens is that they are better for coral reefs and ocean life. In fact, Hawaii has outlawed the use of chemical sunscreens by 2021. There is not enough information to prove a health concern to humans, but do note that pregnant women should avoid sunscreen with retinol palmitate and no babies under 6 months should wear sunscreen.
Ok, so what happens if we forget to follow these tips and end up getting burned? Here’s a few ways to help treat a sunburn:
- Take a cool shower.
- Apply a mild moisturizing lotion.
- Apply aloe.
- If very painful, take some ibuprofen.
- Drink lots of water.
- Do not touch any blisters.
Protection and prevention is the best way to keep yourself safe and healthy this summer. Remember, sadly, there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. Keep these tips in mind when you hit the beach or the pool this summer and you’re sure to have a blast without the burn!
For extra information or to study up yourself, visit https://www.aad.org/ , https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm049090.htm , https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm