How to Safely Enjoy the Summer Sun

To paraphrase a popular song, “It’s summertime somewhere.” Summertime brings warmer temperatures, longer days and plenty of sunshine. Knowing what we do about the potentially harmful effects of the sun, how do we enjoy the outdoors and stay safe at the same time?

A reminder of the effects of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays:

Three Basic Ways to Protect Yourself from Harmful Effects of the Sun

There are a number of ways to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun, some of them more practical in application than others depending on the circumstances. Choose one or more that make the best sense for you:

  • Avoid being in direct sun during the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and optimally, between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. When the sun’s rays are most direct and likely to do the most damage.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing. Tightly-woven clothing, a full-brimmed hat, and UV absorbing sunglasses all offer some protection from the sun’s damaging health effects. Clothing with a UPF rating, ultraviolet protection factor, helps to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.
  • Choose and use a sunscreen or sunblock product before going outdoors. Apply generously and re-apply at least every 90 minutes to 120 minutes.

Avoid Direct Sunlight Between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Seek shady areas or use an umbrella to create shade.
  • Limit time exposed to the sun if your activity is during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Use one or more of the ultraviolet ray exposure protection methods if you’re going to be outdoors between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wear Sun-Protective Clothing

  • Long-sleeved tops, long pants or skirts that are made of tightly-woven fabric offer the most protection from ultraviolet rays. Dark fabrics are generally better at this than lightly-colored fabrics. As a rule of thumb, if you can see light through a fabric, ultraviolet rays can makes their way through to your skin.
  • Wear a hat with an all-around brim that is 2 inches to 3 inches wide to protect your scalp, ears, neck, forehead, nose and eyes. A tightly-woven fabric for the hat, rather than a straw hat, provides the most protection.
  • UPF clothing is rated from 15 to 50+, with 50+ offering the most protection. In addition to UPF clothing, there are products on the market that can be used in the laundry to give UPF protection to the clothing you already have.
  • Look for sunglasses that are labeled “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” or “UV absorption up to 400 nm” for the best protection against the sun’s damaging rays to your eyes, according to the American Cancer Society.  Sunglasses labeled as “cosmetic” only block 70 percent of ultraviolet rays and those sunglasses with no labels should be assumed to confer little or no protection.

Choose and Use Sunblock or Sunscreen

  • A sunblock product offers physical protection against the ultraviolet rays of the sun by providing visible protective coating to your skin, blocking the UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Also called a physical sunscreen, sunblock products contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • Many people choose a sunblock product for use in small areas, such as the bridge of the nose and along their ears for protection from the sun that doesn’t have to be reapplied as often as a chemical sunscreen. A sunblock product is highly visible when applied and can be difficult to remove from the skin.
  • Sunscreen provides chemical protection against the ultraviolet rays of the sun by providing a thin film of the product that works by absorbing ultraviolet rays, usually UVB, or the burning rays of the sun. A broad spectrum sunscreen product provides protection against both UVB and UVA rays, the aging rays of the sun, based on the sun protection factor (SPF) of the product.
  • Most health experts suggest using a sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher. A SPF in in 30 to 50 range provides sunburn protection for most people if applied correctly and reapplied as often as recommended – no longer than 2 hours between applications.
  • Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to exposed areas of skin or skin covered only by lightly-woven or other sun-penetrable fabric 20 minutes to 30 minutes before going outdoors.
  • When using sunscreen and an insect repellent, make-up or a moisturizer, apply the sunscreen first, then the other product(s).
  • Sunscreen should only be used on infants older than 6 months of age.

Understanding Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and Broad Spectrum in Relation to Sunscreen Products

  • SPF is a measure of the sunscreen’s ability to block the UVB rays of the sun – those that can cause sunburn.
  • The Skin Cancer Foundation explains that the Sun Protection Factor prolongs the time a person can be in the sun without becoming burned by the sun’s rays. The different values of SPF refer to how much of the sun’s UVB rays that the sunscreen protects against. A product with an SPF of 15 filters out 93 percent of UVB rays; a SPF of 30 keeps out 97 percent of UVB rays; a SPF of 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays.
  • The Skin Cancer Foundation also explains that, in theory, an SPF of 15 means the product extends whatever your normal time exposed to the sun before it burns is multiplied by 15 times, etc. The theory is just that, because no product protects against 100 percent of the UVB and no product works longer than two hours – and even more briefly when sweating, swimming or towel drying – you shouldn’t rely on a sunscreen’s protection for longer than two hours before reapplying.

The Environmental Working Group Provides Guidance for Choosing the Safest and Most Effective Sunscreen Products

  • Founded in 1992, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit environmental research and advocacy organization in the United States particularly concerned with toxic chemicals and holding corporations accountable for their actions.
  • EWG recommends against the use of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or vitamin A, both currently allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Vitamin A has been linked by EWG research to an increased incidence of skin cancer on sun-exposed skin. Oxybenzone that EWG has said is a hormone disruptive substance and an allergen.

An alternative opinion to that of the EWG:

  • No sunscreen is waterproof. Some sunscreens offer water resistance, a label claim to be used only on sunscreen products that meet FDA guidelines.
  • Spray-on sunscreens should be used with extra care. The spray evaporates quickly and is difficult to apply as completely as is needed to afford true protection.
  • According to EWG, these are some of the best sunscreens to provide broad spectrum protection without harmful additives: Beauty Without Cruelty SPF 30; Tropical Sands Sunscreen and Facestick SPF 30; All Good Sunscreen and Facestick SPF 30 and SPF 50; Adorable Baby Sunscreen lotion SPF 30.

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    • Deb Jones

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