For many of us, we have a host of events, plans and activities lined up this summer. We're traveling, hiking, attending festivals, packing for family vacations and squeezing all the outside time we can get out of these warm months. What's not on our agenda? Sunburns and UV radiation.
July is UV Safety Awareness Month, and it comes at an opportune time. As we spend time soaking up the sun, it's critical that we remain vigilant against invisible rays that can contribute to cancer, premature aging and painful skin mishaps.
What are UV rays?
Ultraviolet (UV) light comes in three different forms — UVA, UVB and UVC — and can be emitted in both natural and unnatural ways. Naturally, the sun itself is the source of UV radiation. Tanning beds, Mercury vapor lighting and other forms of light are artificial forms of UV radiation that negatively affect us.
Thanks to the earth's protective ozone layer, UVC rays are absorbed and don't pose as great of a risk. However, this leaves us with UVA and UVB rays to tackle, as both affect our health.
Effects of UV radiation
Now that we know what UV radiation is, what does it do? First, the good news: UV rays stimulate the production of vitamin D. However, the skin can only produce a certain level of vitamin D. So, once your body hits its limit, more time in the sun does not continue to increase those levels. The recommended amount of protected time in the sun is five to 15 minutes, two to three times per week.
There can always be too much of a good thing, and UV rays are no exception. Excessive UV radiation exposure can contribute to sunburns and blisters, skin cancer, signs of early aging, heat illnesses, eye damage and a suppressed immune system.
How to protect yourself and your loved ones
Get to know the rays — Understand when UV radiation is at its peak. UV rays are typically stronger between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those rays can also reflect off cement, water, sand and snow. Check the UV index in your area. If the index is three or higher, be vigilant and protect your skin.
Embrace the shade — Seek out the shadiest spot, especially around water or sand, where those rays bounce back to you. Pick a tree, umbrella or gazebo and relax.
Lather up in SPF — The great thing about sunscreen? It's a reliable defense against these pesky rays, and you can find it at any grocery or drugstore. Be sure you're grabbing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply before you're exposed to the sun, and reapply if you're sweating or outside for more than two hours. Don't forget to check those expiration dates!
Fashion and function — Create barriers between your skin and the sun. When possible, wear clothing like long-sleeve shirts, pants and closed-toe shoes. If it's not practical or far too hot, try out a beach cover-up or large t-shirt. Don a wide-brimmed hat and “100% UV protection” sunglasses, and your skin and eyes will thank you.
Make it a habit, all the time — Don't let clouds fool you; 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can pierce through the clouds. And although UV radiation is strongest in the summer months, UV rays pose a threat year-round. Implement these sun safety precautions any time you head outside, and you're setting yourself up with habits that benefit you in the long run.
Small steps, big changes
While these individual tips can help protect you from UV rays, they are most effective when used together. If you've neglected your skin — or even hit the tanning bed — in the past, it's never too late to make a change! Ditch the tanning bed, get screened regularly and implement skin-healthy habits to protect yourself from damaging UV rays.