Now that summer is here, most of us want to spend more time outside; in our gardens, doing activities, picnicking, and sitting on our decks and porches. The problem comes when our skin is exposed to too much sunshine. Sunburns are uncomfortable, but short lived. The damage, however, is life long and significantly increases our risk for skin cancer and other problems such as wrinkling, loss of skin elasticity and drying of the skin. In addition, damage occurring in childhood, remains with us forever.
Burns and tans are caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun; UVA and UVB being the most harmful. The rays cause the production of increased melanin containing a brownish pigment. Fair skinned people have less melanin and burn more easily, while dark skins have more. Both are susceptible to the same damages from the sun exposure.
UV rays can cause eye damage, regardless of skin tone such as cataracts and corneal damage. Sunglasses should be able to block almost all UVA and UVB radiation. Read the labels on glasses. They should guarantee "UV absorption up to 400 nm" or "meets ANSI UV Requirements".
Sunburns can be prevented by decreased exposure and by protection from sunscreen products and clothing. Sun screens contain chemicals that absorb and scatter UV rays. They have a numerical rating system called Sun Protection Factors (SPF) on the label. The higher the number, the greater the protection. They should be applied 20 to 30 minutes before exposure and reapplied every two hours. When used correctly, skin will get the equivalent of 1 minute of UVB rays every 15 minutes you spend in the sun. Two hours in the sun with protection is like eight minutes unprotected. When swimming or perspiring, you need to apply more often.
Clothing can be used to protect as well. Long sleeves and pants are best. Knits, however, offer little protection. There are fabrics that are UV resistant. Hats with brims can protect face and neck.
With increasing discussion of the importance of vitamin D and health, there is thought that protecting from sun rays (a main source of vitamin D) may decrease our absorption of vitamin D. How long we should be exposed to sunlight is not known but felt to be a matter of minutes, not hours. This could be achieved early or late in the day.
Skin is the largest organ in your body. Take care of it. Skin cancers and other sun damage are health risks we can all prevent. Enjoy a healthy, fun filled summer.