About 9 in 10 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and about 86% of melanomas are related to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. This is of course the most important reason to take proper sun protection precautions.
But sun exposure can also have significant aesthetic effects, accelerating your skin’s aging and leading to discoloration and sun spots, increased wrinkling, and other problems. And, for another startling fact, it only takes around 15 minutes for the sun’s UV radiation to start damaging your skin, as the CDC explains.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, sun protection is important year round. But the sun’s rays are strongest in the summer, which is prime time for tanning and burns that increase skin cancer risks and skin damage. Rays are at peak strength between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, too. If you’re around bodies of water—whether pools, lakes, rivers, the ocean, or others—the sun is also being reflected back up at you, increasing exposure.
Basic sun protection tips are easy to follow once you make the commitment, and they help prevent such potentially devastating consequences. There’s no good excuse to neglect this care. I’s also crucial that you’re attentive to your kids’ sun protection needs; there’s a strong correlation between childhood sunburns and development of melanoma later in life.
Essential Sun Protection Tips
- Stick to the shade as much as possible; seek out trees or use a sun umbrella on your patio or pool deck, at the beach, and elsewhere
- Keep as much of your skin covered with clothing as possible for as long as possible; refrain from walking around in just your swimsuit
- The more tightly woven the clothing’s fabric, the better sun protection it provides; also, dry clothes offer more protection than wet clothes, and dark-colored clothes offer more protection than lightly colored clothes
- Consider buying some of the lightweight, comfortable clothing specially made to block UV radiation that’s now widely available; the higher the UV protection factor (UPF), the better
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat, preferably made from a tightly woven material rather than something like straw, which has lots of holes that allow the sunlight to pass through
- Wear sunglasses with lenses that provide UVA and UVB protection (wrap-around sunglasses are best); they protect your eyes and the sensitive skin right around them, and help prevent cataracts
- Coat all exposed skin (or skin that will be exposed) with a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15; don’t miss your nose and the tops of your ears
- Shake the bottle of sunscreen before applying it
- Reapply the sunblock according to the manufacturer’s directions; don’t go longer than 2 hours in the sun at the most without reapplying
- Always reapply sunscreen after getting out of the water, sweating, or towel drying; even leading water-resistant products come off to some degree in the water
- Check your sunblock’s expiration date; most products have a maximum shelf life of 3 years, and they do become less effective over time, especially if they’ve been kept in the heat
- Some makeup and cosmetics offer sun protection, but don’t use them alone unless they’re SPF 15 or higher and you’re willing to reapply them as regularly as sunscreen
- Use a lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher, as your lips need sun protection too
- Keep in mind that no sunblock or other products with an SPF offer complete protection from UV radiation damage
- Check reporting of the UV Index; while following these sun protection tips is always important, year round and even on cloudy days, extra sun avoidance and protection vigilance is recommended when the UVI is high