How to Stay Safe in the Sun
Article date: May 9, 2013
It’s natural to want to get out in the sun once the weather warms up. It should also be second nature to take steps to protect your skin from the sun when you go outside. That’s why the Friday before Memorial Day is designated Don’t Fry Day – a day to raise awareness of sun safety and encourage everyone to take steps to protect their skin.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays – from the sun and other sources like tanning beds – are the primary cause of skin cancer. Too much exposure can also cause sunburn, eye damage and premature wrinkles. But shielding your skin with clothing, broad-spectrum sunscreen of sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher, and shade can help lower your risk.
Take these steps to stay sun-safe:
- Cover up: When you are out in the sun, wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30: Be sure to reapply at least every 2 hours, as well as after swimming or sweating.
- Seek shade: Limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps: Both can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.
Choosing and using sunscreen
When choosing sunscreen, be sure to read the label before you buy. Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection (against UVA and UVB rays) and with SPF 30 or higher are recommended. The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays.
Higher SPF numbers do mean more protection, but the higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes. SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%, SPF 50 sunscreens about 98%, and SPF 100 about 99%. No sunscreen protects you completely.
For best results, most sunscreens must be reapplied at least every 2 hours and even more often if you are swimming or sweating. Products labeled “waterproof” may provide protection for at least 80 minutes even when you are swimming or sweating. Products that are “water resistant” may protect for only 40 minutes. Sunscreen usually rubs off when you towel yourself dry, so you will need to put more on.
Remember to check the expiration date on the sunscreen container to be sure it is still effective.
More tools to protect your skin
Many interactive tools are available to help you take care of your skin. The Environmental Protection Agency’s UV index helps you plan your time outside so you can avoid the most intense sunlight. Through May 17, submit a photo of yourself practicing sun-safe behaviors to the Facebook page of the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. The winner will become the face of Don’t Fry Day 2013.
Remember, you don’t need to avoid the sun altogether. Just be sure to take the steps that can protect your skin – on Don’t Fry Day and every day.
Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff
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