It’s no secret that prolonged exposure to sunlight is bad for your skin. It can cause burns, wrinkles, sunspots, early aging, and even an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer. However, sunlight is also an excellent source of vitamin D, allowing the body to absorb calcium more easily while also promoting healthy bone growth. So how can you safely enjoy the sun without causing damage to your skin?
The Sun’s Ultraviolet Light
Sunlight, unlike most forms of artificial light, contains ultraviolet (UV) rays that penetrate deep into the skin and cause damage. Sunlight that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere contains both UVA and UVB rays, each of which has its own unique characteristics.
UVA is the most common form of UV sunlight; according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA accounts for 95% of the sun’s ultraviolet light. Less intense than UVB, UVA is essentially what causes skin to tan. This is why many tanning salons use high-pressure lamps to emit heavy doses of UVA rays.
Recent studies have shown that UVA rays damage skin cells in the basal layer of the epidermis. This means that UVA rays penetrate through the top layer of skin, damaging keratinocytes and potentially leading to genetic malformations.
UVB rays, on the other hand, are less prominent in sunlight and typically do not cause tanning. However, prolonged exposure to UVB rays causes skin redness, sunburns, wrinkles and early aging. When you develop a sunburn from spending too much time outdoors, you can blame the sun’s UVB rays.
Which UV Rays Cause Cancer?
Both UVA and UVB rays have been linked to skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, roughly 1 in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. What’s even more troubling is that rates of melanoma in the U.S. have doubled from 1982 to 2011, signaling a disturbing trend.
Until recently, medical experts believed that UVB rays were the ones primarily responsible for causing skin cancer, but the general consensus is now that both UVA and UVB play an equal role in the formation of cancerous skin cells. Prolonged exposure to UVA or UVB rays damages the genetic makeup of skin cells; as this damage accumulates, it can lead to cancerous formations like melanomas and basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas.
Choosing Sunscreen Lotion
One of the most effective ways to protect against sun damage is to wear sunscreen lotion. If you plan to spend at least 20 minutes outdoors, apply a high-SPF sunscreen to your exposed skin. This creates a protective barrier, blocking out a significant portion of the sun’s UV rays.
But don’t assume that all sunscreen lotions offer the same level of protection. The ability to protect against sun damage is measured in Sun Protection Factor (SPF). SPF 15 sunscreen blocks roughly 93% of UVA rays. SPF follows the rule of diminishing returns, meaning SPF 30 isn’t going to offer twice the protection of SPF 15; rather, SPF 30 sunscreen blocks about 97% of UVA rays.
Furthermore, most sunscreen products only protect against UVA rays, not UVB. So even if a lotion keeps you from developing a sunburn, UVB rays may still get through and damage your skin cells, increasing your risk of cancer. The only type of sunscreen lotion that protects against both UVA and UVB rays is known as broad spectrum. Make sure your sunscreen label specifies that it offers broad spectrum protection.
Avoid Peak Hours
There are certain times during the day when sunlight is high in UV rays, and there are other times when it is low. Depending on the region and time of year, peak hours for UV sunlight typically fall between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. It is best to limit your sun exposure during these hours to lower your risk of UV damage.
Wear Bright Clothing
Have you ever noticed how you feel warmer when wearing black or other dark-colored clothing? This is because dark colors absorb heat, whereas bright colors reflect it away.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, wearing bright-colored clothing can also protect your skin from sun damage. Bright colors reflect UV radiation more effectively than dark and pastel colors. Bright colors will make you feel cooler, and they can also reduce your risk of sunburn and skin damage. If it’s sunny outside, plan your outfit around bright colors for extra protection.
Don’t Forget the Sunglasses!
In addition to bright clothing, you should also wear a pair of UV-protective sunglasses. It’s a little-known fact that between 5 and 10% of all skin cancers occur on the eyelids. Considering the small surface area of the eyelids, this is a pretty “eye-opening” statistic!
Wearing UV-protective sunglasses, however, is an easy way to protect your eyelids from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The specially tinted lenses offer a protective layer that blocks out the sun’s UV rays, shielding your eyes and eyelids from potential damage.
Eat More Antioxidant-Rich Foods
The right foods can protect your skin from sun damage, working from the inside out. Natural compounds known as antioxidants protect skin cells from oxidative stress caused by sun exposure. So if you want to further protect your skin from sun damage, add the following antioxidant-rich foods to your diet:
- Goji berries
- Dark chocolate (choose a variety with a high percentage of cocoa)
- Honeydew melon
- Green tea
To learn more about skincare and how to protect yourself from sun damage, contact us today.