Overexposure to UV light is the leading cause of skin cancer. When caught early, skin cancer can be easy to remove — however, treatment can leave lasting scars and other permanent damage that can impede your quality of life. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to wear proper sun protection, including proper outerwear, wearing sunscreen, and being mindful of your time in direct sun.
Skin cancer isn’t the only damage that over-exposure to the sun can cause, either — wrinkles, sun spots, benign moles, and even sun poisoning can all occur if you don’t practice proper sun care. The skin is the largest organ on your body, and the most exposed to the elements. This is why it’s so important to take care of it.
At Oddjob Hats, we understand the importance of skin protection to ensure a person’s health, wellness, and overall illness prevention, and the way it can be done easily and with style. We’ve prepared this guide to show not only how important it is to protect your skin, but the best ways to do it.
1. Apply SPF Daily
Sunscreen is one of the best defenses you have against sun damage. The FDA recommends a minimum SPF, or sun protection factor, of 15 to protect against skin cancer. However, SPF 30 is more likely to protect your skin against sunburns, freckling, wrinkling, and other sun weathering.
Depending on your skin tone, you may need a lower or higher SPF. For example, people with red hair are more likely to burn because their skin has less melanin. These people may want a higher SPF that’s close to 40 or 50. On the other hand, people with darker skin, with a higher level of melanin, may be happy with SPF 30 or 20.
Regardless of skin tone, SPF should be applied daily, every two hours while outdoors, and after swimming. Even if you’re spending the day indoors you should apply at least one coat of SPF on your face since your skin can still get sun damage through windows. If you are prone to acne or break-outs, you may want to look for a non-comedogenic sunscreen for your face. Sunscreens often contain oils so that they spread easier and repel water, which can cause breakouts. Non-comedogenic sunscreens use less of these oils.
2. Always Have a Source of Shade
If you’re going to be spending extended periods outside, it’s important to have a source of shade. Sunscreen can’t protect you from heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can also be caused by prolonged exposure to the sun. As you sweat more in direct sun and heat, you also become more dehydrated. Luckily, all these conditions can be remedied by finding a source of shade. You can either find a shady spot under a tree or building, or you can bring your own shade. This could be:
- An umbrella;
- A tent;
- A canopy;
- A shade sail;
It’s especially important to bring shade if you’re in the sun with young children, as they are at a higher risk of dehydration than adults. Kids also sunburn faster than adults, so having a source of shade can help protect their skin.
3. Wear the Proper Clothing
Proper clothing is another important part of sun protection for your skin, especially if you’re unable to find or bring some shade. Activities like hiking and skiing are high sun-exposure activities that don’t particularly allow for setting up an umbrella or canopy. Sunscreen in tandem with protective clothing can help reduce skin damage, as well as lower dehydration and exhaustion from sun exposure.
Long sleeves, sunglasses, long pants, closed-toed shoes, and large hats are all examples of sun-protective clothing. Accessories like hats and sunglasses can be especially helpful for people with blue or green eyes, who, in addition to redheads, are more prone to sun damage. It’s important to wear clothes and accessories that fit to properly protect yourself from the sun.
When it comes to sun protection accessories, some are better than others when it comes to preventing potential damage. For example, polarized sunglasses are treated to block UV rays, which are harmful to your skin and eyes. Untreated dark lenses, on the other hand, may help block brightness but won’t necessarily help protect.
Hats are another good example. Hats with a large, stiff bill, such as athletic hats, camp hats, and trucker hats will shade more of your face than softer hats, like bucket hats, which are better at covering your head.
4. Limit Sun Exposure
Limiting your direct sun exposure is another easy way to protect your skin. However, if you’re wanting to get a tan in the summer, you still can; even while using SPF and practicing sun safety. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, you can sunbathe without sunscreen for a maximum of 15 minutes. However, if you have fair skin, you may want to limit this to 10 minutes. It’s also important to be mindful of dehydration when sunbathing since direct sun exposure increases your sweat production.
If you’re looking to safely get a tan this summer, follow these sun exposure safety tips:
- Have a cold drink nearby;
- Shade your face and eyes;
- Work in shifts of direct exposure and shade;
- Turn your body frequently;
- Reapply sunscreen as often as recommended.
Another important thing to remember when sunbathing is to never fall asleep in the sun. If you fall asleep, you no longer have control over how long you’re in direct light, how often you’re able to reapply sunscreen, and how quickly you dehydrate. You can prevent this by setting an alarm on your phone or having someone nearby to wake you if you doze off.
5. Be Cautious of Increased Skin Sensitivity
Certain medications, treatments, or topical skin applications can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. These medications include:
- Certain antibiotics;
- Certain antidepressants;
- Certain antifungal medication;
- Older antihistamines;
- Certain acne medications;
- Certain diabetes medications;
- Some heart medications.
Of course, sun sensitivity should be listed in the side effects or directions of your medication. Talk to your healthcare provider about proper sun safety while using any of these medications or treatments.
6. Be Aware of the UV Index and Reflection
If you’re planning on traveling or simply planing a fun day in the sun, do your research about the UV index. The UV index, or the ultraviolet index, is an international standard measurement for the strength of ultraviolet radiation in any particular place.
This can help you understand your sun damage risk for your area, especially if you live in a high-risk area like Australia. Certain factors can increase or decrease the UV index for your area. For example, snow is reflective and therefore can increase the UV index. While air pollution can shield UV rays, and lower the index.
To check the UV index for your area, you can use the EPA’s UV Index search portal. Alternatively, weather apps may include the UV index in their forecast.
7. Avoid Indoor Tanning Beds
In addition to limiting direct sun exposure outdoors, you’ll want to avoid tanning beds and booths. Artificial tanning beds use direct UV light to create their desired effect. This is the exact radiation that makes you tan in the natural sun, as well as causes skin damage and cancers. Even one tanning session can increase your likelihood of developing melanoma skin cancer by 20 percent. This is due to the direct and incredibly close exposure to UV lights offered by tanning beds.
It should be noted that there is no “safe” suntan, even in natural light. A tan is a result of minor skin damage caused by UV rays, and therefore all tanning will result in some level of skin damage. Safer alternatives to sun tanning include tanning creams, sprays, and other topical applications.
8. Keep Your Children Safe
As we’ve mentioned, children are more prone to skin damage and dehydration than adults. This is because they have more fragile skin and much smaller bodies. Protecting young children from the sun is incredibly important for their skin safety. It should be noted that most sunscreens have an age limit.
Infants under six months should generally not wear SPF over 15 if they wear any at all. The chemicals and oils in sunscreen can cause a range of skin irritations from mild conditions, such as a rash, to more extreme conditions, including eczema. Check your sunscreen for any age warnings before applying it to your baby's skin.
With proper sun protection, you can improve the health of your skin, as well as the look of it. Wearing a strong enough SPF, reducing your direct exposure, wearing a hat to keep the sun off, and protecting against dehydration are the best ways to stay safe in the sun.