Safe sun. Awesome summer.

22 Jun Safe sun. Awesome summer.

Isn’t it great? The long days of summer are here. More daylight hours make us feel more energized and happy. What’s not to love about summer? Almost nothing, except two letters:

U and V.

How much UV for you?

Why do we care about exposure from the sun? It mostly centers on the role of UV light and how it can damage the DNA of our cells. In the short term, the damage shows up as sunburn and freckles, but it also sets the stage for skin cancer development.

Maybe you’re wondering if there’s a certain amount or dosage of sunlight that’s healthy, because we are inundated with conflicting information about Vitamin D and sun exposure. What we know for sure is that Vitamin D is formed in the skin through the interaction with sunlight and that it’s necessary for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and thus is needed to help prevent osteoporosis, among other things. However, how much we need is highly variable, depending upon individual skin type, time of day, season, latitude, and other factors. But…

Scientists have studied this and found that there is no magic threshold of UV that sufficiently boosts Vitamin D yet is still safe for your skin. Thus, there is no safe dosage of sunlight that can be prescribed and there is no “healthy tan” —any color change in skin is a sign of sun damage. Freckles are sunburn spots, and a tan is the skin’s way of recovering from sun damage. And don’t think you can avoid this with Indoor tanning! It damages the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid sun exposure during peak times of the day—10 am to 2 pm. Another sensible strategy is wearing sun protective clothing, including long sleeved shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats that shield the face, ears and back of the neck and sunglasses. And finally, applying sunscreen to exposed parts of the skin and re-applying after sweating, swimming, or at 1-2 hour intervals. Oh, and by the way, reapplying sunscreen does not reset your time in the sun. It just ensures that the protection you have is still covering your skin.

Without sunscreen or sun protection, some people may burn in as little as 5 minutes, although for others it may be longer. Sunscreen prolongs that time, but doesn’t block 100% of the harmful UV radiation. Also, most people don’t apply sunscreen adequately—either not enough or not enough in advance of going outside. In general, most sunscreens need 15-30 minutes lead time to protect the skin. In terms of quantity, one ounce, or what dermatologists often describe as a shot glass full of sunscreen, will cover the typical adult wearing a bathing suit.

We know that the shoulders, chest, and back frequently get burned during recreational exposure. Other areas that are frequently neglected are the lips and ears, and these are often the sites for skin cancer development. We really suggest “sunscreen sticks” because they are easy to carry and can be applied frequently to your lips. One final thought about sun protection: there is a double dose of UV exposure near water and white sand because the high reflectance of the sun’s burning rays on these surfaces.

Sunny days are not the only time we need to be aware of sun protection.  UV rays can penetrate through clouds although it may be less intense. Depending on the type of cloud cover, however,  UV reflection may be increased. So, the bottom line is you must be extra diligent about sun protection in all of these high reflection environments.

Sunburn? Deal with it.

Despite good intentions, sunburns happen. In the event of a sunburn, we recommend immediately  applying cool compresses to the sunburned skin, followed by a bland moisturizer.

Also, you may take an Advil or Motrin to help with the inflammation. If the sunburn is widespread, you develop blistering, or if you’re somewhat sick and queasy, it would be important to seek additional care at Crossover Health or with your provider.

Show me your eyes.

Did you know that UV light can actually cause poor vision and eye health issues? The yellowish coloration on your sclera from sun overexposure are actually small bumps that cause chronic irritation in your eyes. Accumulation of UV light in your eyes also causes cataracts. We all WILL get cataracts, but the more often you wear sun protection the older you will be when you develop them. Sunlight exposure is also a contributing factor to macular degeneration. This is a particularly challenging disease that can cause irreversible blindness.

Choosing sunscreens and sunglasses.

We’re often asked about how to pick a good sunscreen. All sunscreens when applied adequately and re-applied as directed offer excellent UVB protection, but not all sunscreens offer good UVA protection. UVB rays are the sunburn rays but UVA are the sneaky rays that can penetrate window glass and can also cause cancer, pigmentation, sun allergies, and skin aging. And so, UVA blocking is essential in a good sunscreen. The best UVA blocker, in our opinion, is zinc oxide. Always look for at least 5% zinc oxide in the active ingredients of sunscreen.

Finally, another good check is looking for the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of approval on the bottle.

Are sunscreens safe? Sunscreens used as directed are fine for children over 6 months as well as adults. Certainly, some people may be allergic to an ingredient in a particular brand of sunscreen and if that’s the case, we’d recommend a pure mineral sunscreen in conjunction with sun protective clothing.

How about sunglasses? Are they all the same? Almost all sunglasses these days offer UVB and UVA protection. However, better quality sunglasses do a superior job of filtering out those rays and are optically clearer.  

You should also know it does not matter how dark the sunglasses are. Even clear glasses can have a UV coating. Polarized sunglasses, helpful when driving or in a reflective environment like on a boat or skiing do not, however filter out more UV rays than non-polarized glasses. Some contact lens brands offer UV protection, but since they don’t cover the whites of your eyes or the skin, sunglasses are still advised.  

Safe sun. Healthy you.

It’s easy to forget about our skin and our eyes when all you want to do in the summer is get outside. But, our skin is our largest organ and it works hard as a first line of defense for our health. Our skin is also the first impression we make and is a window to our overall wellness. Eyes may or may not be the windows to our souls, but just like our skin, our eyes and our vision cannot be taken for granted. By practicing safe sun, we can protect our skin and eyes and still enjoy our summer.

That’s why we’re always ready to meet with you to learn more about how to be smart about the sun this summer. Make an appointment with us to talk more about your skin and learn more about practicing Safe Sun.

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