The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center

Tips for Protecting Your Skin This Summer

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Warm weather is a great opportunity to get outside. Being in nature has a number of health benefits, including fighting depression and anxiety, reducing stress, improving mood, lowering blood pressure, and reducing cancer risk, but while you’re enjoying the outdoors, don’t forget to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays.

Sunlight includes ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause premature aging and has been linked to several kinds of skin cancer. There are two basic types of UV rays: UVB rays, which cause sunburn and increase your skin cancer risk; and UVA rays, which are more responsible for skin aging and wrinkling, but which also penetrate more deeply than UVB rays and can also contribute to skin cancer.

While you’re enjoying all that the summer has to offer, follow these tips to keep your skin as safe as possible.

Know Your Risk Factor from Sun Exposure

Remember that aside from being out in the sun, there are several factors that can make the sun’s rays more damaging. You are especially vulnerable if:

  • You have pale skin
  • You are taking medications that make you more sensitive to the sun, such as acne treatments, antihistamines, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories
  • You will be outside during the prime sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • You are at a high altitude or in a tropical or polar region
  • You are in a high UVI area (check the Environmental Protection Agency website for UVI forecasts by ZIP code
  • You are in an area where there is water or snow, both of which reflect the sun’s rays

Choose the Right Sunscreen

Every sunblock is labeled with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) number, which indicates how well it protects your skin from UVB rays. Sunscreens that are labeled “broad spectrum” also protect skin against UVA rays.

Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 (which blocks 93% of UV rays) to 50 (which blocks 98% of UV rays). Dermatologists recommend using sunblock with a minimum of 15 SPF, and studies have found that sunblock with SPF ratings over 50 aren’t any more effective than an SPF 50 sunblock.

Whichever sunscreen you choose, apply it in a thick layer to every inch of exposed skin 15 minutes before you plan to be in the sun, and reapply it every two hours. If you will be in the water, you’ll need to apply it more frequently (check the water resistance rating on the bottle) as well as every time you dry off with a towel.

Do not use sunscreen on infants under 6 months, store it in a cool, dry place, and discard it after three years or the “use by” date on the product.

Wear Protective Clothing

Wearing sunblock is better that going unprotected, but it’s not foolproof. Choosing the wrong SPF or applying it incorrectly or not liberally enough can significantly reduce its effectiveness. And there are certain parts of your body, like your head, that never see sunscreen at all. In those cases, or to give your skin an extra layer of security, consider wearing protective clothing like sun hats, rash guards, swimsuits, workout gear, or outerwear.

Most clothing has at least some level of natural sun protection, but how much protection it provides depends on several factors, including the color and weight of the material, the density of the weave, and how much skin it covers.

It also depends on how you wear the clothes—sun protection can be significantly reduced if the clothing is stretched, worn and washed repeatedly, or gets wet.

Some clothing is specially treated with chemicals that absorb UV rays in order to provide additional protection. For the best protection, choose clothing with a high Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPV) rating, which indicates what percentage of the sun’s rays it blocks. Clothing with a UPV rating of 50, for example, only lets 1/50th, or 2%, of the sun’s UV rays through. For the sake of comparison, a lightweight white T-shirt offers an average protection level of UPF 7, which means 14% of UV rays are still getting through to your skin.

Most clothing marketed as “sun-protective” is at least UPV 50, and must be at least UPV 30 to receive a Seal of Recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation. You can also add sun protection to your own clothes with a laundry additive called Sun Guard, which increases the UPV of the clothing when added to the washing cycle and lasts 20 washings.