You may feel healthier with a bit of a tan, but your skin does not appreciate it. The sunlight that warms our bones and makes flowers grow contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can damage the skin.
Exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can lead to: Sunburn—This is the most obvious and immediate sign of too much sun. Your skin will be red and tender, and it may swell and blister. You may even run a fever and feel nauseous from a severe sunburn.
Premature wrinkling and uneven skin pigmentation—Over time, too much sun exposure will cause your skin's texture to change. The skin can become tough and leathery, and you may notice more wrinkles. In addition, the sun can cause sun spots—discolorations in the skin's tone that may be brown, red, yellow, or gray.Skin cancer—This is the most serious result of too much sun. The more sun exposure and sunburns you have, the more your risk of skin cancer increases. Learn about the proper way to check your skin for any changes in the size, texture, or color of a mole. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends you check your skin every month.
A dermatologist can check for unusual blemishes, moles, and other skin lesions for signs of cancer. Talk to your doctor about how often you should have regular screenings. They are painless and only take a few minutes.
This may include: Avoiding sun exposure between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. This is when the sun's rays are most damaging.Not deliberately sunbathing.Not using tanning devices, like tanning booths or tanning lamps.
Protect Your Skin
In general, it is best to avoid spending too much time in the sun. If it is unavoidable, follow these guidelines: Use broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more on skin that will be exposed to the sun. Apply sunscreen to all exposed areas approximately 30 minutes before sun exposure. Use the amounts recommended by the manufacturer. 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 excessive sweating.Use a protective lip balm. If you are at the beach, sit under an umbrella or use nearby shade.
Wear Protective Clothing and Sunglasses Choose hats and clothing with a high UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). This is the amount of the sun's UV rays that are being absorbed by your clothing before they get to your skin. A rating of 50+ offers a lot of sun protection. Consider clothing that has been treated with special UV absorbers or chemical sunblock to offer more sun protection. Be careful, as these may lose their sun protective qualities over time.Choose clothing made from tightly-woven fabric. This will absorb more of the sun's UV rays. Darker colors absorb rays better than light colors. 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. For example, a dark denim shirt offers more protection than a white t-shirt. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants will give more protection.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 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service put out the UV Index. This is a daily report on 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 apply 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 sun-protective clothing. Avoid being outside around midday.6 to 7—High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Use sunscreen and wear sun-protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. Reduce your exposure to 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, epecially during peak sun hours. You can burn quickly.11+—Extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Avoid sun exposure and 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 by reflecting light.
Alberta Provincial Cutaneous Tumour Team. Prevention of skin cancer. Edmonton (Alberta): CancerControl Alberta; 2013 Feb. 27 p. (Clinical practice guideline; no. CU-014). Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=48130#Section420. Accessed January 4, 2016.
Early detection and self exams. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/early-detection. Accessed January 4, 2016.
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 January 4, 2016.
Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 17, 2015. Accessed January 4, 2016.
Skin cancer: prevention. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/prevention.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed January 4, 2016.
Preventing skin cancer. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/prevention-guidelines. Accessed January 4, 2016.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed January 4, 2016.
UV index scale. United States Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/sunsafety/uv-index-scale-1. Accessed January 4, 2016.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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