Most things on Earth require exposure to the sun in order to thrive. Human beings are no different as the sun helps the body produce vitamin D, for example, which helps absorb calcium and contributes to strong bones. Despite its benefits, the sun is also dangerous and can damage both the skin and eyes. People who are routinely exposed to sunlight may also develop skin cancer. The threat that the sun represents is due primarily to ultraviolet rays, which are more commonly referred to as UV rays. There are two types of UV rays that negatively affect the skin, ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. To protect oneself and family from these invisible rays and the damage that they cause, people must understand the various ways that they can protect themselves.
Sun shields are products that help shield the skin from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. One of the most commons sun shields is sunscreen. Sunscreen comes in the form of a lotion, cream, spray, or gel, and is applied to the surface of one’s skin roughly fifteen to thirty minutes before going outdoors. For the best coverage and protection, smooth it over the surface of any exposed skin, including the face. Not all sunscreens are equal, and there are certain features that can improve its overall effectiveness. One of these features is called the sun-protection factor, or SPF. The SPF number indicates how long the applied product provides protection against sunburn in comparison to wearing no protection at all. The recommended SPF is SPF15 or greater, regardless of a person’s skin type or the time of year. When an individual uses a sunscreen with an SPF 15, he or she can enjoy the sun without sunburn fifteen times longer than if no protection had been applied at all. Because factors such as the time of day and weather conditions also affect how long it may take for a sunburn to occur, people should not rely on the SPF as a way of determining how long to stay in the sun. In addition, people should also be aware that the amount of protection provided does not rise proportionately with the SPF number. Therefore an SPF 15 absorbs 15 percent of UVB rays, but an SPF 45 only absorbs 98 percent, according to the American Melanoma Foundation. Another factor to consider when purchasing sunscreen is its ability to protect against UVA radiation; while all sunscreens protect against UVB rays, not all protect against UVA. UVA rays contribute greatly to skin cancer in addition to the premature aging of the skin. Ideally, one should select a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, which protects against both UVB and UVA. Water resistance is another feature that greatly enhances the effectiveness of sunscreen. A water-resistant sunscreen is less likely to come off while swimming or with sweat.
Clothing and Lip Balms
Wearing the right clothing is one of the most basic methods of protecting oneself from the harmful effects of the sun. Unlike sunscreens and cosmetics, it is effective in that it continues to protect the sun until it is physically removed from the body. In general, most clothing also protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Different types of clothing, however, offer different amounts of protection, particularly when it comes to fabrics and the amount of coverage. Clothes that are made of fabrics that are tightly woven will protect better than loosely woven and sheer materials. Fabrics that are darker in color absorb more UV than lighter colored items, and thus keep it away from your body. Drier clothing and items that are less stretchy are also better at sun protection. Because protection involves coverage, longer articles of clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and lengthy pants and skirts, will naturally protect the skin better than shorts or short-sleeved shirts/blouses. A wide-brimmed hat is another article of clothing that provides a significant degree of protection against ultraviolet radiation. When choosing a hat, select one that has a sun-proof liner and a wide brim. A hat with a brim that is at least four inches is best, as each inch of brim lowers the risk of skin cancer by ten percent, according to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
In addition to protecting one’s skin with clothing, it is also important to protect the lips. Lips are particularly susceptible to the damages caused by the sun. A simple way to protect one’s lips is to use a lip balm that has an SPF factor of 15. Apply the lip balm even when wearing a hat.
- Sun Protective Clothing
- Children’s Clothing – Sun Protection (PDF)
- Sun Protection – Avoiding the Sun and UV Rays and Sun Protective Clothing
- Your Lips Need Protection
Sunglasses and Cosmetics
Both sunglasses and cosmetics provide a level of protection against the sun, but in different ways. Certain cosmetic brands offer foundation, eyeshadow, etc., that contain a SPF; however, the benefits are negligible for a number of reasons. One of these reasons has to do with the amount of product used. Often, getting the necessary protection requires much more product than what people actually apply to their face. Additionally, people typically do not apply their makeup evenly, and some areas of the face may have thinner or heavier coverage than other areas. The need for reapplication every few hours can also be detrimental when it comes to makeup and sun protection. To get the maximum sun protection, people should use a sunscreen beneath their cosmetics, even if the cosmetic product has an SPF. When it comes to face powder, the use of a compressed face powder can prove beneficial in that it helps hold the sunscreen in place, but it may cause the sunscreen to lose some of its potency in terms of filtering UV rays.
Sunglasses not only protect the upper half of the face, but they also provide protection for the eyes. The primary benefit of wearing sunglasses is that it protects one’s eyes from potential problems that are caused in part, by sun exposure. Macular degeneration and the formation of cataracts are two problems that cite prolonged sun exposure as a potential contributor and risk factor. When picking out sunglasses, choosing the right pair is important. Ideally, sunglasses should state that they offer UV 400 protection. This means that the lens blocks UV light with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers (nm). The lens of the glasses should also have a gray or brown tint and resistant to impact.
- Skin Cancer Foundation
- When Choosing Sunglasses Does UV Protection Matter?
- Rethinking Makeup’s Sun Protection
- Sun Exposure Precautions and Protections, Including Eye Damage
Umbrellas and Other Shading
Seek shade whenever possible to help reduce sun exposure. Ideally, people should avoid the outdoors as much as possible between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Realistically, this isn’t always feasible and, as a result, other measures are necessary. People should always seek areas of shade during this time of day or when their shadow is shorter than they are. Walk beneath awnings or other coverings whenever possible as opposed to walking directly beneath the sun. Areas with tree coverage are better locations than areas without trees. Umbrellas are also a way of cutting sun exposure. Beach umbrellas are ideal for lounging on the sand, and poolside umbrellas are perfect for shade when spending a day at the pool. Umbrellas may also be used for protection when walking out in the sun; however, people should be aware that they do not offer full protection, and sunburn or sun damage may still occur due to the sun’s reflection off of the sidewalk, sand, or water. The umbrella material should also be made with a UV block to prevent radiation from passing through.
- Sun Safety for the Entire Family
- What are Some Other Ways to Avoid Sun Damage?
- Skin Cancer Q & A
- Sun Safety – You Can Reduce Sun Exposure