By Molly Francis, Program Evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJuly 1, 2015
It is finally summertime, so what better way to celebrate than by going out and enjoying the summer sun? You probably put on sunscreen before going swimming or going to the beach because you know that the sun's ultraviolet rays, or UV rays, can damage your skin in just 15 minutes. But wait, not so fast! You are in danger from the sun's UV rays any time you are outside.
Ultraviolet radiation is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the "part of sunlight that is an invisible form of radiation." There are two types of harmful UV rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). While UVA is the most dangerous type, the CDC cautions that UVB rays can also have negative health effects.
Too much exposure to UV rays can cause sunburn, where the radiation literally burns your skin and causes it to age prematurely. Along with being painful, sunburn can have long-term consequences. The World Health Organization warns that UV rays cause damage to skin cells that can result in skin cancer along with other harmful effects to your eyes, skin, and immune system. The National Cancer Institute cautions that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States and getting just one blistering sunburn increases your risk.
The UV rays can reflect off a variety of surfaces like water, sand and pavement and cause havoc year round and anywhere outside. It is important to safeguard against the sun's harmful rays to protect yourself and your skin. To protect yourself, follow these "SUNSHINE tips":
S: Sunscreen. Always wear sunscreen. The CDC recommends wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be worn any time you go outside for the most protection.
U: Use sunscreen correctly. Apply sunscreen at least a half an hour before going into the sun. Also make sure to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours or more often if you are swimming. If you are swimming, reapply sunscreen every time you dry yourself off.
N: No expired sunscreen. Always make sure to check your sunscreen's expiration date, as all sunscreens expire. If you cannot find one, replace the sunscreen after three years or if the sunscreen appears discolored.
S: Sunglasses. Wear sunglasses. Look for sunglasses that offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. Sunglasses can help protect your eyes from cataracts and yellowing of the lens.
H: Have (and wear) protective clothing. Protective clothing includes a wide-brimmed hat that shields your face and neck from the sun, long sleeves and pants. The American Cancer Society advises that clothes that are dry, darker and have tighter knits are better at protecting your skin from UV rays. However, also wear sunscreen for ultimate protection.
I: Inside. Avoid being outside from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when possible. These are the peak hours for UV rays. If you are going to be outside during this time of the day, take precautions like staying in the shade.
N: No tanning beds. Tanning beds produce UV rays just like tanning outside. Getting a base tan before going to the beach does not protect your skin from the sun while at the beach.
E: Examine your skin. Look for moles that are growing larger, black or uneven in color and look for discolored skin patches. These marks could be signs of melanoma, a particularly dangerous type of skin cancer, and should be discussed with your doctor.
Although sun safety is important in the summer, remember UV rays can find you year-round. If you follow these "SUNSHINE" tips, you can be sure to enjoy your summer responsibly and protect your skin--the largest organ in your body!