Have a Sun-Healthy Summer
Summer is often filled with outdoor adventures. Even with high temperatures tempting us to stay inside, we love saying, “YES!” to beach trips or river kayaking or fun at the park, etc. Summer is the only time of year to thoroughly enjoy these things – we love how warm and happy the sun feels!
But speaking of how the sun feels on our skin, basking in those summer rays isn’t always a good thing. 5-15 minutes daily (up to 30 minutes for darker skin) of unfiltered sunlight helps our bodies get enough natural vitamin D, but any more than that can start to cause damage. How?
The more time you spend in the sun, the more exposure you get to the sun’s harmful UV rays. These rays can cause sunburns, skin aging (such as sunspots or wrinkles), eye damage, and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States, and it’s on the rise. The CDC projects there will be 106,110 new cases of skin melanomas and 7,180 deaths in 2021.
Thankfully, we have some tips to help you protect yourself while you enjoy the sunshine. And it starts with being serious about protecting yourself from UV light, from the sun AND indoor tanning beds.
Let’s Boost Your Sun Safety!
Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense. It can be easy to lose track of time, especially when your day outside starts early. If you don’t have the time on you, an easy way to tell if you’re soaking in mid-day sun is to look at your shadow. During the sun’s highest points aka highest UV exposure, your shadow will be smaller than you. Try to limit your exposure during these hours, seek shade or cover up and apply more sunscreen.
You’ll also want to know your skin and your sunburn risk. All skin types are at risk from UV rays, but lighter skin tends to be more sensitive. Different medications can also alter your sensitivity, so it’s good to be mindful of what your prescription does. Keep an eye on your skin for changes – skin cancer is easier to treat when caught early. Look for new skin markings, like moles, bumps, scaly spots, or places where your skin has changed color.
Use sunscreen – regularly and as directed. Sunscreen is one of the best defenses for protecting our skin against sun damage. You want to use sunscreens that are broad spectrum, meaning they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. And it’s recommended that you use sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher. If your skin is fair, you may want a higher SPF of 30 to 50. Anything lower than SPF 15 has not been shown to prevent skin cancer or skin aging.
Another factor you should consider is choosing a natural-organic/mineral sunscreen. Though chemical sunscreens do help protect your skin, they do so by absorbing the sun’s rays once they come in contact with your skin. Natural sunscreens actually block and reflect the sun’s rays. They’re also chemical-free, aka safe for the environment, and irritant-free, which is great for people with sensitive skin or conditions like rosacea or eczema. Not sure if your sunscreen is natural? Look for natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, these are key minerals that block the UV rays; and avoid chemical ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate.
Once you’ve chosen a good sunscreen, be sure to read the label thoroughly to ensure you apply your sunscreen correctly. Most sunscreen lotions and sprays will say something like, “Apply liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply: after 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, immediately after towel drying, at least every 2 hours.” Sprays may also give directions for how close to hold the can and how to apply spray to face, and other information that will help you get the most out of your sunscreen.
Keep in mind that no sunscreen completely blocks UV radiation, and no sunscreen is waterproof, though some may be water resistant for 40-80 minutes (as it will state on the label). This is why it is important to REAPPLY your sunscreen as often as directed.
If you have kids, help them apply sunscreen and remind them when it’s time to reapply. Certain spots can be easily forgotten, make a checklist to make sure you don’t miss any of these frequently forgotten spots:
🗸 Back of neck
🗸 Tops of feet
🗸 Along the hairline
🗸 Areas of the head exposed by balding or thinning hair
If you start early, you can help your kids build a good habit of applying sunscreen that will last through their life. But you should consult a health care professional before applying sunscreen to infants younger than 6 months.
Cover up, too. As we mentioned, no sunscreen completely blocks UV radiation. Wear clothing to double up your protection against the harmful rays. Darker colors provide better protection. Cover exposed skin with long-sleeve shirts or pants. Sun-protective clothing is also an option – look for clothes with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating of 30 or higher for better protection.
Any hat can help protect your head, but the best hats for sun protection are broad-brim hats with at least a three-inch brim to shade the face, scalp, neck, shoulders, and upper back, along with easily overlooked places like the tops of the ears.
Also invest in sunglasses with “100% UV protection” on the label, these provide the most protection against UV rays. Keep in mind that pricier sunglasses don’t ensure greater UV protection, and dark-tinted sunglasses might not have any UV protection. Always read the label!
Seek shade when possible. Whether it’s nature-provided or man-made, shade can be made in any sunny area. Going swimming? Set up a sun-tent or umbrella to provide a place where you can relax while giving your skin a relief from the sun’s rays. If you’re going hiking – pick a trail that goes through heavily treed areas to minimize the sun exposure. You don’t have to be IN the sun to enjoy the outdoors.
Know the UV index. The UV index lets you know the amount of UV radiation reaching that part of the Earth. It’s a scale developed by the National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, that rates UV radiation from 1-11+. The higher the number, the higher the radiation. And a higher UV rating means you should wear a higher SPF sunscreen.“There is a popular misconception that SPF relates to time of solar exposure. For example, many people believe that, if they normally get sunburned in one hour, then an SPF 15 sunscreen allows them to stay in the sun for 15 hours (e.g., 15 times longer) without getting sunburn. This is not true because SPF is not directly related to time of solar exposure but to amount of solar exposure.”
When in doubt, go ahead and use SPF 50!
Practice Sun Safety Year-Round!
These tips for sun safety should be used year-round. UV rays reach the ground even if it’s cloudy, hazy or raining outside. Using the tips above can help you be proactive about skin health and prevent serious damage to your skin, health, and body. So go enjoy the summer sun! Just remember, being safe lets the fun last longer!
 Neutrogena. “Direction Label of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum SPF 100+.” Skillman, NJ. 2019.
 Equate. “Direction Label of Equate Sunscreen Sport, Broad Spectrum SPF 50.” Bentonville, AR.