Sunny days bring with them so many happy memories of endless summer and outdoors fun. When we plan our holidays we seek out the bright locations: who would book a vacation in hopes of rain? Our response to those bright rays of sunshine has something so organic, so natural about it that it’s hard to believe that our skin needs protection from the sun.
Why is protection important?
Put quite simply, sun damages the skin. Intense sunlight can cause painful sunburn. Purely cosmetic damage results as well. Exposure to the sun can cause the inner layers of skin to grow thicker and become less able to retain moisture. Sunlight’s ultraviolet rays also damage our skin’s elastin fibers, which control its resilience. The result is that we develop fine lines and wrinkles, especially on the face, and the skin begins to sag. Small freckle-like spots can develop as well. In addition to discoloration and wrinkles, people who don’t protect themselves from the sun’s rays may find that the texture of their skin has changed, in some places becoming very thin and easily damaged, in other places (like the back of the neck), thick and bumpy.
Sunlight and Skin Cancer
Perhaps the most important reason why we need to protect our skin from the sun is critical to our health. Sunlight contains ultraviolet radiation, which causes skin cancer, the kind of cancer found most frequently in the USA. Sadly, exposure to ultraviolet radiation can happen in summer or winter, while both the cumulative effects of frequent exposure and a one-off bad case of sunburn are also likely to increase our risk of developing cancerous lesion. And while fair-skinned redheads are more at risk, people with dark hair and complexions also need to protect themselves.
What steps can we take to protect our skin?
It would be unreasonable and silly to ask people to stay out of the sunshine. But here are some simple daily steps we can take to protect both the beauty and the health of our skin.
1. Avoid direct sunlight during the brightest parts of the day.
Doctors have developed a rule of thumb for determining the times when sunlight is most dangerous to our skins: when our shadows are shorter than we are, we need to take care. This correlates roughly to the period between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. If possible, limit the amount of time you are in the sun during these hours. And remember that these are precisely the times that children love to play outside.
2. Wear protective clothing.
A wide-brimmed hat (not just an eyeshade) that covers the top of your head and shades your face, ears, nose, and throat is essential. Be sure to wear long sleeves and long trousers. Don’t forget that your feet and toes need protection as well. Tightly woven fabric in dark shades absorbs more ultraviolet rays, while light-colored and loosely woven fabric lets more UV through to damage your skin.
3. Use an effective sunscreen.
There are a wide variety of sunscreen products on the market. Read the label before you buy one. Medical experts recommend that the sunscreen factor must be at least 15spf. Sunscreen creams have to be applied fairly thickly, and they need to be reapplied frequently, especially after swimming.
4. Be careful of reflected light.
Our skin absorbs ultraviolet rays that are reflected off bright surfaces such as a concrete parking lot, a sandy beach, or a snowy ski slope, so take steps to avoid this kind of exposure. Be aware as well that shade trees may offer cool places to sit, but their leaves and branches are still allowing some ultraviolet radiation to pass through. You aren’t protected while you’re in the water either, so be cautious when swimming.
5. Be careful what meds you take
Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can make the skin more susceptible to sunburn. Ask your pharmacist if you have any questions in this regard.
6. Don’t be fooled by cloud cover.
The only time you can let down your guard against ultraviolet radiation is after the sun has gone down and before it comes up. Even though the day is cloudy, the sun’s rays still penetrate the cloud cover.
7. Be vigilant about self-exams.
The good news is that skin cancer is highly curable when found early. Examine your skin from head to toe on a monthly basis. Any changes in existing moles or growth, or any new growths, should send up immediate warning flags and get you into your doctor’s office as soon as possible.
Medical science has made great strides in recent decades in the prevention, detection, and cure of skin cancer. But basic precautions taken on a daily basis to prevent sun damage to our skin will vastly decrease our worry. Common sense practices like those above will also keep our skin looking soft and beautiful. +