UV rays are strong. They can penetrate clouds, reach below the water’s surface and reflect off surfaces like sand, snow and water. While you might think you’re protected, it’s always wise to brush up on some safety tips to prevent skin cancer and keep your skin looking and feeling healthy. There’s a lot more to staying sun-savvy and protecting your skin than simply wearing sunscreen.
The Lowdown on UV Rays
The sun’s ultraviolet rays are made up of UVA, UVB and UVC rays. UVA rays make up 95% of the UV rays that make it to the ground, and UVB rays make up the remaining 5% (UVC rays do not reach the ground).
UVA rays have the least energy, but they can cause skin cells to age, leading to wrinkles, liver spots and sagging, leathery skin. UVB rays are stronger and directly damage the DNA of skin cells, leading to sunburn or skin cancer.
Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma skin cancers are mainly found on sun-exposed parts of the body, and are linked to a lifetime of sun exposure.
Start With Sunscreen
Even on overcast days, 90% of UV rays can pass through the clouds and damage your skin. Whether you’re laying by the pool or going for a walk on a cloudy day, sunscreen is key.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (meaning it blocks UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of 30 or higher. SPF 30 essentially means you are exposed to 1 minute of UVB rays for every 30 minutes in the sun.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if you are sweating, swimming or toweling off.
- Use a full palm's worth of sunscreen for your face, neck, arms and legs.
- Check expiration dates. Sunscreen is usually good for at least two to three years, but if you’ve kept yours in the car or in excessive heat, you may want a new bottle.
- Don’t forget your lips! Your lips are just as susceptible to the sun’s rays as the rest of your skin. Swipe on some SPF lip balm or just use your regular sunscreen in a pinch.
Sunscreen is just one of the tools in our toolbox to protect against sun damage. It may filter the sun’s rays, but it doesn’t block them entirely.
- Sun-protective clothing with a clearly-labeled UV protection factor (UPF) is a great choice for extended time in the sun. For other outdoor activities, opt for fabric with a tight weave. If you can see through it, UV rays can get through, too.
- Sunglasses with UV protection to not only protect your eyes, but the delicate, wrinkle-prone skin around them. The larger the better for sun protection. But darker lenses don’t necessarily mean they offer better protection. An invisible chemical added to the lenses is what adds UV protection, so make sure you read labels closely to find the best choice.
- A hat with at least a two-to-three-inch brim can top off your sun-protection efforts. You can even find hats made from sun-protective materials.
Being outside is unavoidable, but in addition to the right clothing and sunscreen, knowing when UV rays are the most dangerous can also keep you safe.
- The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Seek the shade or make sure you are protected with sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.
- UV rays can reflect off sand, water and snow, so your exposure will be even greater if you’re boating, laying on the beach or even skiing.
- The water won’t protect you from the sun. If you're snorkeling or wading in a pool, the UV rays can shine right through the water and burn you the same as on dry land.
- Windows also aren't always protective. If you can feel the sun shining on you, you need sunscreen on.
The Cosmetic Center offers a variety of Obagi, SkinMedica and Revision Skincare broad-spectrum sunscreens.
If you have any questions or concerns about your skin, reach out to your primary care provider.