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Protect Your Skin: How to Avoid Sun Exposure
You may feel healthier with a bit of a tan, but your skin doesn't. The sunlight that warms our bones and makes flowers grow contains UV radiation that can be bad news.
Exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can lead to:
- Sunburn—This is the most clearest and most immediate sign of too much sun. Your skin will be red and tender. It may even swell and blister. A severe sunburn can cause a fever and make you feel nauseous.
- Premature wrinkling and uneven skin coloring—Over time, too much sun will cause your skin's texture to change. The skin can become tough and leathery. You may also notice more wrinkles. The sun can also cause brown, red, yellow, or gray spots in the skin called sun spots.
- Skin cancer—This is the most serious result of too much sun. The more sun exposure and sunburns you have, the higher your risk of skin cancer.
- Avoid the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. This is when the sun's rays are most damaging.
- Do not sunbathe.
- Do not use tanning booths or lamps.
You can't always avoid the sun. If you are in the sun follow these guidelines:
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB:
- Look for a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more.
- Follow the listed steps when putting the lotion on. Apply to any skin that will be touched by the sun about 30 minutes before sun exposure. Do not forget the back of your neck, rims of your ears, nose, and tops of your feet.
- Reapply every 2 hours, or after swimming or heavy sweating.
- Use a lip balm that blocks UVA and UVB rays.
- Sit under an umbrella or use shade.
- Infants under 6 months should be kept out of the sun. They should wear lightweight, tightly woven clothing that covers their skin, and a hat.
- Sunscreen can be used once your baby reaches 6 months of age. If you have questions about sunscreen use, talk to your baby's doctor.
Learn how to check your skin. Look for any changes in the size, texture, or color of a mole. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends you check your skin every month. Show your doctor any unusual or new skin changes. Early detection can prevent some skin cancer. The earlier a skin cancer is found the better the outcome tends to be.
Look for specialty clothing:
- Choose hats and clothing with a high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). UPF is the amount of the sun's UV rays that the clothes prevent from reaching your skin. A rating of 50+ offers a lot of sun protection.
- Clothes that have been treated with special UV absorbers or chemical sunblock may offer more sun protection. Be aware that they may lose their protection ability over time.
For regular clothes:
- Choose clothing made from tightly-woven fabric. This will absorb more of the sun's UV rays. Hold clothes up to the sun to see how much light comes through. Clothes that do not let much light through will be more protective.
- Darker colors absorb rays better than light colors.
Wear a wide-brim hat and sunglasses. A hat with a six inch brim all around is best. Choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
The UV Index
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service report the UV Index every day. This shows the UV radiation levels in different areas in the country. Here is how to interpret the number:
- 0 to 2—Low danger from the sun's UV rays for the average person. If it's a sunny day, wear sunglasses. If you burn easily, make sure you use sunscreen and wear clothes that protect your skin.
- 3 to 5—Moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. If you plan on being outside, wear protective clothing. Avoid being outside around midday.
- 6 to 7—High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Use sunscreen. Wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. Reduce your time in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- 8-10—Very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Follow the tips above, but be even more careful. You can burn quickly.
- 11+—Extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Avoid sun exposure. Try to remain in the shade as much as possible. Keep in mind that bright surfaces, such as sand, water, or snow increase UV exposure with reflected light.
American Academy of Dermatology
The Skin Cancer Foundation
Canadian Dermatology Association
Canadian Cancer Society
Early detection and self exams. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/early-detection. Accessed November 17, 2017.
Get in on the trend. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/clothing/get-in-on-the-trend. Accessed November 17, 2017.
Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115302/Melanoma. Updated October 16, 2017. Accessed November 17, 2017.
Should you put sunscreen on infants? Not usually. US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm309136.htm. Updated November 6, 2017. Accessed November 17, 2017.
Skin cancer: prevention. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/skin-cancer. Updated July 2017. Accessed November 17, 2017.
Preventing skin cancer. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/prevention-guidelines. Accessed November 17, 2017.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed November 17, 2017.
UV index scale. United States Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/sunsafety/uv-index-scale-1. Accessed November 17, 2017.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 03/2018
- Update Date: 04/05/2018