How to stay safe in the sun: have a sun safe summer
The weather is warm, the days are longer and there’s more time to be outdoors doing all kinds of fun activities! If you find yourself spending a lot of time outside, it’s important to stay safe in the sun now and all year long.
How can the sun be harmful to humans?
Sun exposure can cause sunburn, eye damage, skin aging (i.e., skin spots and premature wrinkles), and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers affecting nearly 5 million people in the United States every year—current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
More than 1 million Americans are living with melanoma—the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Caucasians and men older than 50 have a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population. However, skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin color. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common forms of skin cancer, are highly curable if detected early and treated properly. The most preventable cause for skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds.
Hours to avoid the sun
To stay safe in the sun, you don’t have to hide completely but you should take some steps to protect yourself. The time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest is the best time to avoid the sun. You can also watch the UV index, which is an important resource for planning outdoor activities at this peak time. When the UV index predicts exposure levels of moderate or above, take special care to adopt safety practices.
Tips to stay safe in the sun
- Always wear sunscreen. UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) rating of 30 or higher that offers broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Put on sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply at least every 2 hours to be safe, more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating a lot.
- Wear protective clothing. Sun-protective clothing is easily available—such as long-sleeve shirts, pants, and broad-brim hats.
- Take breaks often, seek shade to limit your direct exposure or go inside. Plan your outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the afternoon. If that’s not an option, find or create shade and take lunch breaks or schedule a nap during those hours.
- Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses shield your eyes from UV rays that reflect off sand, water, or even snow, and further increase your exposure to UV radiation and also increases your risk of developing eye problems, like cataracts.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. Tanning is never safe, whether you’re inside or outside. Tanning beds and sunlamps can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.
Examining your skin
You can never fully stay out of the sun, so in addition to taking steps to stay safe, it’s helpful to get to know your skin and do regular examinations. Skin cancer is easier to treat when caught early, so getting to know your skin and watching for changes is a big part of skin cancer prevention. Look for new skin markings, such as moles, bumps, scaly spots, or places where your skin has changed color. If you spot a mole, watch for changes in size, texture, color, or shape. If you are able to, get a professional skin examination from a dermatologist once a year, in addition to monthly self-examinations.
Half of the cancer deaths in the U.S. can be prevented if people made healthy decisions around lifestyle, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Practicing sun safety every day can help save you in the long run. And don’t forget to keep your children safe in the sun. All of these tips are important for them, including protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses.