Now that it is officially summer and you head outside to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather, it’s always a good idea to refresh your memory about protecting yourself and your family from the sun. Let’s discuss the importance of preventing sun burns and an important consideration about which medications may increase your sensitivity to the sun.
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure and damage
accumulates over time so practicing proper protection techniques from an early age is important to preventing downstream negative effects. UVR damage can range from mild (sun tan) to severe (skin cancer) and is affected by certain factors such as time of day, season, location, altitude and weather conditions.
At some point throughout our lifetimes, we have all either had personal experience with or know someone who has experienced a sunburn. Symptoms include red, swollen and sometimes blistered skin lasting around 3-5 days or more depending on how severe the burn is. Sunburns can also cause a person to experience headache, fever, nausea or fatigue. Cumulative experiences of sunburns lead to an increased risk of developing certain skin cancers later in life, which can be very serious, prove costly and sometimes even deadly.
It is also important to remember that in addition to a skin burn, your eyes can also become burned with exposure to UVR. Symptoms can include red, painful, dry or gritty feeling. This can lead to cataracts and macular degeneration.
The good news is sunburns are easily preventable and there are numerous ways to prevent sunburns!
Your first line of defense is sunscreen:
- Wear broad spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or higher. Don’t forget those easily overlooked areas such as your ears, neck, lips, tops of your feet and back of your hands.
- Apply ~1 oz. to each area of your body that will be exposed.
- Apply about 15-30 minutes before sun exposure so your skin is able to absorb it.
- Reapply every 2 hours, after swimming or sweating, and as directed. If you know you’ll be around water, choose a waterproof or water resistant product.
- Wear sunscreen even if it is overcast – UVR can still penetrate through clouds.
- If you will be in an area that requires additional insect repellant, apply the sunscreen FIRST and then the repellant SECOND because some DEET repellants can decrease the SPF of sunscreen.
- Physical sunscreens are also available, which include titanium or zinc oxide. These are a great option for areas of your skin that receive the most sun exposure such as your nose. New technology no longer causes a white film to be left behind, so no need to worry about these causing you to look like a lifeguard.
- Check the expiration date on your sunscreen bottle – they do expire!
Sunscreen is an important tool in preventing sun damage but it should not be your only defense against the suns harsh rays.
Here are some additional tips to protect yourself and your family this summer:
- Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun when UVR is the strongest – typically between 10 am and 4 pm. Other times to be particularly careful include in the summer months, at higher altitudes and as you get closer to the equator. Seek shade such as trees, shelters, tents, or umbrellas during these times if you must be outside during these times.
- Water, sand, concrete, snow and metal can all reflect the sun’s rays and should be taken into account when calculating the total time spent in the sun. For example, swimmers can still get a sunburn even if submerged in water.
- Wear items of clothing that provides protection: hats with wide brims, sunglasses with UV protection, long-sleeve shirts and pants (if possible), or anything that covers your skin.
- There is no “safe” form of UVR. Avoid using tanning beds and educate teens and young adults about the dangers of these. Contrary to popular belief, having a base tan does not protect against sunburns in the future.
For more information, check out these helpful resources: