Kids are finishing up their school years and the bugs are back to biting here in GTS' home state of Minnesota, which means summer must be here!
With sunny days ahead, you probably expect to be spending more time outdoors in the coming months. But before you fire up the grill, dive off that dock, or dig into your garden, remember to take precautions to care for your skin. While some sun exposure is good for us, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with too much time in the sun, and how best to protect yourself and your family from harmful UV radiation and a dreaded sunburn.
Read on for your who-what-where-when-why guide to treating your skin right this summer!
YOU! Yes, you. That's right, everyone should take measures to protect their skin from UV radiation, regardless of their skin's degree of sun sensitivity or ethnicity.1
If you are someone with fairer skin, moles, who tends to burn easily, or have a family history of skin cancer, you are especially advised to plan ahead for prolonged sun exposure.2
Additionally, even if your skin's characteristic response to the sun is a tan rather than a burn, if you spend a lot of time outside recreationally or for your job, you are still at a higher risk for adverse outcomes.2
What should you do to properly protect your skin from harmful UV rays? The CDC breaks it down into three categories:
- Use Sunscreen - Broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher should always be used in combination with the other protective methods listed below. Of course, the higher the SPF, the more it will protect against UV rays. Remember to apply your sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going outside, and reapply at least every 2 hours - more frequently if you are perspiring or swimming. Don't forget to lather up those overlooked areas, like your ears, lips, and hairline.2
- Wear Protective Clothing - Wearing lightweight pants and long sleeves can be an easy first line of defense for your skin if summer temperatures allow. Particularly when it comes to your head, neck, and face, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses can go a long way to prevent damage to your skin and corneas.2
- Seek Shade - While this is not the number one protective method, when combined with the above strategies, shade becomes a powerful method of skin protection. In quality shade, you can reduce your exposure to UV radiation by up to 75%.3
Obviously, if you are outside, the sun's rays can reach your skin. UV rays will reflect off of certain surfaces, such as water, concrete, sand, and snow, so it is important to be mindful of the fact that you are more at risk of sunburn in those environments. That's right, you can even get a sunburn while skiing.2
A lot of people think the only time they need to apply sunscreen is when they are laying out on a beach, intentionally going for that summer glow, but recent data indicate that most sunburns occur in contexts unrelated to intentional tanning. You should be thinking about your skin protection when being physically active, on cloudy days, and even when driving.1 During the summer months, the sun is most intense between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, so if you will plan to be out during this window, pack your SPF 15.
Another important "When" for parents to consider is when to start teaching your kids about sun protection. According to Dr. Barnett S. Kramer, a cancer prevention expert at NIH, "The time to really start sun protective behavior is not when you reach adulthood, but years before. The message to parents is, now is the time to start protecting your child against skin damage from sun overexposure, when your child is developing sun exposure habits and when they have many more years of potential sun exposure ahead of them.” Among other skin-protecting habits, this includes teaching children and teens to avoid the use of tanning beds.4
Too much skin exposure allows UV rays to reach your inner skin layers. You are probably familiar with the immediate impact of this phenomenon - sunburn.2
Signs of sunburn include:
- Red, painful skin
- Hot skin that can also lead to chills and goose bumps
- Itchy, peeling skin - this is your body's way of shedding dead skin cells.
Thinking more long term, excessive sun exposure and frequent sunburn can lead to more permanent issues such as:2
- Early Aging of the Skin -This will present itself through dark spots, and wrinkled, tight, or leathery skin.
- Lowered Immunity - When your skin gets burnt, white blood cells help create new cells. This leaves your immune system more vulnerable.
- Eye Injuries - UV rays can damage your corneas which may lead to blurred vision and cataracts. If left untreated, these problems could lead to blindness.
- Skin Cancer - Of course, the most common concern when it comes to sun exposure is the potential for skin cancer. Each year, more than 2 million people are treated for 2 types of skin cancer: basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers are seen in both older and younger people, and they’re rarely life-threatening. Melanoma is a less common but more serious type of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of your body, and is diagnosed in more than 68,000 Americans each year.4
Despite the risks of sun exposure being quite widely known, a large proportion of adults continue to employ minimal strategies to mitigate those risks. We hope these reminders keep you out of the doctor's office with these diagnoses and spending more time living your best life.
Footnotes and Sources
1. Progressreport.cancer.gov, April 2022
2. Familydoctor.org, September, 2020
3. Cancer.nsw.gov, June 2022
4. Newsinhealth.nih.gov, July 2014