Summer is around the corner, and savvy sunbathers are taking steps to keep their skin safe from sunburn and skin cancer while enjoying the outdoors. Americans love to sport a healthy glow, but a tan is actually a symptom of skin damage – excessive exposure to the sun can cause premature ageing, skin cancer (the most common cancer in the United States), and other diseases.
The culprit for most skin cancers is excess exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, an invisible radiation generated by the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps. UV rays can damage skin cells, which is why it’s so important to protect yourself. And not just on sunny days: UV rays can reach you on cold and cloudy days too, and reflect off surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow. In the continental U.S., nearly half of UV radiation is received between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daylight saving time, when the sun’s rays are the strongest and most dangerous. You can check the UV Index to see a forecast of the strength of UV rays each day. When the UV index reaches 3 or higher in Kansas City, it’s especially important to protect your skin. Here’s how:
- Avoid spending time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- A good rule of thumb is that if your shadow is shorter than you, find shade.
- Wear long shirts and pants to cover your arms and legs.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim that will protect your face, head, ears and neck.
- Wear sunglasses which wrap around your head and block both UVA and UVB rays. These will protect your eyes and mitigate the risk of cataracts.
How to Apply Sunscreen Correctly
Sunscreen is one of the most popular forms of sun protection and when applied correctly does protect your skin. Yet some studies have found that sunscreen users tend to get burnt more often, perhaps because they apply too little or not often enough, or use it while engaging in unsafe exposure, like staying out in the sun for too long or foregoing protective clothing. To correctly make use of sunscreen, you should:
- Cover exposed skin. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) above 15.
- Wear a lot (more than you think!). Research has found that people use much less sunscreen than is necessary for effective protection. You should be using up to 1.5 ounces to protect the full body, and a fourth to half a teaspoon for your face.
- Reapply every two hours. And if you are swimming or sweating, that goes up to reapplying every hour.
- Don’t depend on sunscreen alone. Sunscreen is not intended to be the only form of protection you’re using. You should be practicing other sun safety measures, like covering up with clothing, keeping to the shade, and staying out of the sun during the times of day when its rays are most powerful.
Making the most of summer by spending time outdoors is a great way to be physically active, reduce stress and get your vitamin D. If you follow these simple safety measures, you can enjoy the sun and summer worry-free. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea for adults to get screened for skin cancer every one or two years. To find a dermatologist near you, use the FIND CARE tool at bluekc.com.