At this point, you know better than to lay out in the summer sun frying like a chicken, though you may wish you could've told a younger version of yourself that years ago. Starting in childhood, the ultraviolet light in the sun’s rays begins to damage unprotected skin, leaving us vulnerable to cancer in adulthood and destructing collagen and elastin in our skin. You have the sun to thank for much of the thinning, wrinkling, and texture and pigment irregularities that you’ve been graced with later in life.
Even though sunlight is vital to human health (since it prompts the body to produce vitamin D and wards off seasonal affective disorder during the winter), it’s very easy to overdo it, as is true for all good things. Exposing your skin to UV rays ultimately damages the DNA in your skin cells, which sends an open invitation to cancer to come a-knocking. Here are some tips for being sun savvy before and during exposure to UV light.
It’s a no-brainer that you should apply a daily moisturizer with SPF on your face before leaving home every day (you can find some suggestions here). But if you’re planning on spending an extended period of time outdoors, it is critical to use a good sunscreen on your entire body, ideally 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun (same numbers go for the SPF as well). Depending on your level of activity (swimming and sweating are not friends of sunscreen) and length of time outside, you’ll need to re-apply.
When choosing a sunscreen, look for the physical sunscreen agents zinc oxide and titanium oxide or the chemical sunscreen agent avobenzone. These active ingredients are the best overall blockers of UVA and UVB. Also, make sure to check the expiration date on your sunscreen bottle. Even though the FDA requires that all sunscreen remain at their original strength for at least three years, resist the urge to buy in bulk in this instance. Sunscreen is one of those special cases where you actually need the ingredients to be 100% effective to protect your own health.
It’s easy to neglect your lips when you’ve coated every square inch of your skin. But the lips are susceptible to basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Procect your pout with an SPF-loaded lip balm, but steer clear of the standard makeup glosses. Though they may make your lips glisten, they also attract UV rays in the same way as baby oil. Accelerating light penetration, lip glosses make skin extra vulnerable to burns, freckles, and precancerous growths.
Also, wear sensible, lightweight clothing, such as a long sleeved shirt and a large-brimmed hat (the scalp is not immune from skin cancer), which will provide as much coverage as possible without making you sweat. It may seem extreme, but people with a high SPF IQ apply sunscreen underneath their clothing before getting dressed on days that they plan to be out in the sun for a long stretch. The typical T-shirt tends to provide only an SPF of 5 to 8. Unless clothing is densely woven or is treated to be sun-blocking, it won’t be sufficient for full protection.
You wag your finger at people who frequent tanning booths and slather on tanning oil. You’ve been programmed to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially between the hours of 10AM and 4PM. But there are some facts that might surprise you. For instance, did you know that where you live is the single most important factor is assessing your risk of skin cancer? Your location affects such variable as altitude, number of sunny days, and ozone condition. But short of moving to Seattle, the best you can do is patch up the gaping holes in the average sun protection plan.
Once you’re out and about, there are some things you can do to effectively safeguard your skin. Don’t take for granted that the windows of your car block out harmful sunlight. UVA rays (which lead to wrinkles and skin cancer) penetrate right through the glass into your skin if it is not clothed or covered with sunscreen. In 2007, researchers at the St. Louis University School of Medicine found that people who spend a great deal of time behind the driver’s wheel tend to develop more skin cancers on the left side of their faces, necks, and arms. Coincidence?
If you thought that lounging under your beach umbrella or in the shadow of a tree kept you hidden from the sun, guess again. About 50 to 90% of rays can be reflected off of water, sand, or pavement and bounce right onto your skin, even if it is surrounded by shade. The same rule applies to a cloudy day, since 80% of UV rays manage to sneak through the clouds to assault your skin. By staying mindful of these sun facts, you’ll lower your risks for outward signs of aging and inward health scares.