That Dangerous Summer Sun


Slón Bentley

Ah, summer! Beaches, parades, boating, BBQ’s, and sun worshiping.  What could be more exciting?  Many people look forward to the summer sun more than Christmas – unless you’re a super pale person, like me, who burns just thinking about walking outside.  Those of us lucky enough to be extremely sensitive to the power of the sun’s rays know how important sunscreen can be, and are practically religious in its use. Many sun lovers, though, don’t realize how much they need it too.

The sun’s rays, warm and inviting they may be, are also incredibly dangerous to your skin and your future health.  Have you ever seen an older tanned woman with skin that looks like leather and has wrinkles galore?  Any guesses as to how she got them?  Most likely from too much ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure.  While smoking can also be a contributing factor to leathery skin and wrinkles (take away: don’t smoke), UV rays do the most damage to the skin’s surface.

What can too much sun exposure do?

Too much sun exposure can cause severe damage to your skin including:

  • Fine or deep wrinkles
  • Freckles
  • Loss of collagen, which can lead to saggy skin
  • Skin discoloration
  • Sallow (yellow) skin
  • Sun spots, also known as liver spots
  • Spider veins on the body and face
  • Benign tumors (noncancerous)
  • Malignant tumors (cancer)

None of those sound particularly appealing.  Are you wondering what can you do to protect yourself?  It’s easy: sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!  Slathering on sunscreen with a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor), and reapplying often, is one of the best ways to protect your skin.

Decoding SPF

The SPF of your sunscreen tells you the percentage of UV rays it blocks.  To figure out the percentage of harmful rays that SPF 15 absorbs, divide 14 by 15. For SPF 30, divide 29 by 30.  For SPF 50, divide 49 by 50.  And so on.

So what does all that math really mean?  For an SPF of 15, 14÷15=93, meaning it will block 93% of harmful UV rays.  SPF 30 blocks 96% of UV rays.  SPF 50 blocks 98% of UV rays.  Once you reach 75, the differences are indistinguishable from SPF 50.

So, what should you do?

Applying sunscreen once is not enough.  Sunscreen should be applied a minimum of 15 minutes before going in the sun, and should be reapplied at least every 2 hours, or every 40 minutes if you’re swimming or sweating.

Not only do you need to reapply it frequently, you need to use enough.  While people come in all different sizes, the average woman needs at least 1oz of sunscreen, about the size of a standard shot glass. A thin layer does not allow the sunscreen to live up to its full SPF factor.  If you’re in doubt, err on the side of caution and put on more. You cannot use too much.

Other things to consider

The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, so try to avoid spending too much time outside during these peak hours.

Most people only think to apply sunscreen to the major parts of the body, but there are other areas you shouldn’t forget!

  • Lips – Wear a lip balm or lipstick with a sunscreen.
  • Ears – How often do you remember to put sunscreen on your ears? They burn too!
  • Eyes – Sunglasses that protect from UV rays can help keep your eyelids and the area just below your eyes from getting burned. These areas are incredibly sensitive and are often common sites for skin cancers or discolorations.
  • Face – Don’t trust the SPF in your foundation alone.
  • Scalp – Wear a hat to give extra protection. Who doesn’t love a stylish summer hat?

What about other seasons?

Believe it or not, you need sunscreen all year long.  The sun’s rays are harmful to the skin year round, even when it’s cloudy or snowing.  When snow skiing, UV ray exposure can increase 4-5% more per 1000 feet of elevation.  At an altitude of 10,000 feet above, the UV rays could be 40-50% more intense than on the beach.  In addition, snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays, meaning you can be hit more than once by the same rays.

While people like me generally avoid the sun at all costs – believe me, it doesn’t take long to burn, and it’s painful – that doesn’t mean everyone has to.  You do need to be smart about it, though.  Wear sunscreen daily, reapply it often, don’t forget sensitive areas, wear glasses with UV protection, and avoid the peak hours when the sun’s rays are at their harshest.  If you take precautions at a young age, your skin will thank you for it for many summers to come.

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