The Dangers of Too Much Sun
Some sun can be good for you. It provides your body with vitamin D. But too much can cause damage. The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) rays, which penetrate your skin. Sunburn results when exposure is more than your body’s protective pigment, called melanin, can handle. UVB rays are the most harmful and are the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer. Another form, UVA rays, get deeper into the skin and can even go through window glass. These rays also harm the skin. They can cause wrinkling and leathering and contribute to skin cancer. There are 3 types of skin cancer–squamous cell, basal cell, and melanoma. The most serious form is melanoma.
The Risk Factors for Melanoma
Melanoma is cancer of the melanocytes, the cells that make the pigment in skin and hair. It’s not certain why melanoma occurs. Some known risk factors include too much exposure to the sun before the age of 18, a family history of the disease, fair skin that burns or freckles easily, or having a lot of moles. Even if you do not have any of these risk factors, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun.
Skin cancer is curable if caught early, and you can take steps to prevent it. You may already know that wearing sunscreen is important. Here are some details about sunscreen.
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Someone with a history of skin cancer may need a higher SPF. The level of SPF indicates the length of time you will be protected from UVB rays, compared to the time it would take for you to sunburn without protection. So if your skin would normally redden in 20 minutes, sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will protect you 15 times longer, or for 5 hours.
- Look for a product that provides both UVA and UVB protection. Sunscreens should include at least one of the following ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone (also known as Parsol 1789 or 1789).
- Wear sunscreen all year long. Harmful rays are present all year, even on cloudy or snowy days.
- Apply the lotion to all areas of the skin, including ears and eyelids.
- Apply sunscreen liberally at least 30 minutes before your exposure to the sun. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming.
Other Tips for Protection
Wearing sunscreen is crucial to skin protection, but there many other ways to keep your skin safe. Here are some helpful tips.
- Avoid the sun between 10AM and 4PM , when exposure to ultraviolet light is highest.
- Even a tan is a sign of sun-damaged skin and it is also a cancer risk. Avoid tanning salons. Even artificial sunlight contains harmful UVA and UVB rays that can lead to skin cancer.
- The sun’s rays can penetrate through clothing and cause damage. Wearing hats, cover-ups, or other clothing with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) ratings are also helpful–especially for people who have had skin cancer. Find out about clothes with UV protection on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website, at www.skincancer.org .
- Eyes are also in danger of the sun’s rays. Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
- The strength of UV rays can vary from day to day and region to region. The UV index measures the strength of the rays and indicates how much precaution you should take. See Melanoma.com
Make sun protection a priority this summer and all year round.