Summary: Each year in July, when the sun’s rays are at their most intense, many organizations nationwide join together to bring awareness to the dangers of the sun and the UVA and UVB rays that touch our bodies every day during UV Awareness month. When our skin is left to these damaging rays without clothing or sunscreen, serious damage can result. By protecting our skin, the largest organ in our bodies, we help to lower our overall risk for skin cancer. Learn how you can protect your skin and still have a great time outdoors this summer!
In those steamy hot summer months, July brings you UV safety awareness month! The dead of summer is the perfect time to highlight this month, as it is also the time when the sun is at it’s brightest! Many people love spending time outdoors in the summer, but not everyone remembers to protect the largest organ in their body from these rays. Your skin, eyes, and even your lips and ears need extra protection. The sun emits radiation known as UVA and UVB rays, and both types are dangerous to the skin and body.
UVB rays have a shorter wavelengths that reach the outer layer of your skin. UVA rays have longer wavelengths that can penetrate to the middle layer of your skin and tissues. By learning the risks that come with having too much sun exposure and taking the proper precautions to protect your skin from the UV rays, you can rest assured you are lowering your risk of UV skin damage, and thusly lowering your risk for cancer.
The sun can cause damage to your body and skin. These are the most common symptoms and issues:
- Skin cancer
- Premature aging of the skin: wrinkles, age spots, blotchy skin
- Suppression of the immune system
- Cause of vision problems and damage to eyes
There are many steps you can take to lessen your risk of skin damage from the sun. Here are some ideas on keeping yourself safe in the UV rays!
- Stay in the Shade. Staying in the shade ensures that you are out of the sun. The sun’s glare is the strongest and most intense from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and you should remain out of the sun during those hours. The sun can still damage your skin on cloudy days, overcast days, and even in the winter. Ensuring you stay sun-safe year-round is a must.
- Cover up. Wide-brimmed hats, sun hats, or even baseball caps work to help keep your face and eyes away from the rays of the sun. Proper clothing to help provide a barrier between your skin and the sun’s rays are long sleeves shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block these rays from sneaking in through the sides.
- Choose the Right Sunscreen. Sunscreen is a vital tool in the fight and protection against the sun’s powerful rays. The FDA regulations for sunscreen state that users should use only sun protection factor or SPF 15, or higher. This sunscreen should also protect against both Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B rays. Sunscreen must be reapplied after sweating, swimming, or toweling off, or reapplied every few hours.
- Use the right amount of sunscreen. The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention or NCSCP states that most people apply only half of the amount of sunscreen needed for proper protection. When you are out in the sun, it is important that you apply at least ONE OUNCE, or one palm-full, of sunscreen every two hours; more often if wet, sweating, or working hard. Even if your sunscreen is labeled as waterproof, continue to apply regularly to ensure you are protected. Check your sunscreen bottle each year for the expiration date. You should not use expired sunscreen as it will not be as effective after that date.
The Scorching Truth of Sunburns
If you find yourself sunburned, as many people do during the Spring and Summer months, you may need to take further action to help alleviate pain and help to lessen the damage to your skin. Try these things if you are suffering from a sun burn:
- Avoid any further sun exposure until the redness is gone, or pain lessens
- Drink plenty of water and fluids to avoid dehydration, avoiding alcohol, which will dehydrate you and your skin faster
- Apply cooling gel like Aloe Vera or a special sunburn cream
- Take aspirin or acetaminophen immediately after to relieve the sunburn discomfort and inflammation
- Apply a cold compress to the area as often as necessary
- If your sunburn blisters, take care to keep the blisters clean and do basic wound care routines to help them heal.
Not all sunburns you get will be visible immediately. Some sunburns do not show themselves until six or more hours after the initial exposure. Sunburns usually reach their peak in eighteen to thirty-six hours but can last longer depending on your skin type and severity of the burn. Any burn to your skin is damage. Suntans are simply visible skin damage.
There are also benefits of UV rays! Beneficial effects of UV radiation include the production of vitamin D, which is a vitamin essential to human health. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food and assists bone development. The World Health Organization recommends five to fifteen minutes of sun exposure two to three times per week.
These rays can also be found in other areas, devices and places that do not involve the sun. You should take the same precautions at these places that you do when you are outdoors, especially if you are sun-sensitive. These places are:
- Tanning beds
- Mercury vapor lighting which are often found in stadiums and school gyms
- Some halogen, fluorescent, and incandescent lights
- Some types of lasers
When you take the time to ensure that you are being sun-safe, you also protect your skin and body from unnecessary aging marks and possible skin cancer.
Have a great summer and remember to stay sun safe!