Most of us enjoy being out in the sun, and sunlight does have its benefits. Unfortunately, too much exposure to its ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause wrinkles, skin cancer, and other problems.
The summer sun is the most hazardous, but you need sun-screen protection year-round.
(For information on treating sunburn)
The sun’s rays are most intense from 10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. (11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. daylight saving time). Plan your outdoor activities for early mornings or late afternoons.
Glare from sand, snow, and water reflects the sun’s rays, greatly increasing their effect. Cement also reflects the sun. Be sure to use sunscreen and sunglasses when glare is present, and walk on the shady side of the street. Place your child’s sandbox in a shady area.
The closer you are to the equator, the stronger the sun’s rays. When in the tropics, limit any first-day exposure to direct sunlight to 15 minutes at a time, for a total of one hour or less, and always use sunscreen.
High altitudes are also a hazard. Because the atmosphere is thinner, more UV
radiation reaches your skin. Be particularly careful when working or vacationing in mountain regions.
The longer the horizon, the more vulnerable you are too harmful rays. Someone stand-
ing on an open plain is at more risk than a person whose view of the horizon is blocked by trees or buildings.
Don’t be fooled into reserving your sunscreen for bright days. Most of the sun’s UV rays penetrate clouds, so that even hazy, overcast days can damage your skin.
Tanning salons provide sunlamp radiation that carries all the risks of real sunlight, including skin cancer. Unless the user wears goggles, the radiation may also cause serious-ous eye damage.
Fluorescent lights emit small amounts of radiation, especially some newer fixtures (shaped like egg crates) that leave bulbs unshielded. Use incandescent lighting wherever possible. Uncovered halogen bulbs also present a risk, but a double-envelope halogen bulb provides its own shield.
Use sunscreens (see Buying and Applying Sunscreen below).
Choose to clothe that will sufficiently come between you and the sun’s rays. To get an idea of how much a piece of clothing will shield you from the sun, hold it up to a lamp and see how much light it lets through. Clothes with thick, tight weaves and ample coverage work best. Some T-shirts offer good protection, but they lose up to 25 percent of their effectiveness when wet. Lightweight clothing made especially to provide sun protection is now available; however, some manufacturers’ claims may not conform to FDA standards.
Avoid clothing that is supposed to allow an allover tan; that means it lets in too much
Put on a hat with a brim, preferably about three inches wide. Baseball caps and visors shade the face, but they leave the ears and back of the neck exposed.
Wear gloves when gardening or playing golf.
Guard your eyes with sunglasses. Over the years, exposure to UV rays can harm the lens, retina, and cornea and can lead to cataracts (see “Protecting Your Eyes“).
Seek out the shade, but remember that beach umbrellas do nothing against rays reflected off sand and sea.
Be aware that glass windows block some UV rays, but not all the safety glass in windshields has an inside layer of plastic, which adds more protection, but car interiors are still not completely free of UV radiation.
Never use a sun reflector or metallic reflector blanket. They can cause serious burns very quickly.
Children’s skin is especially vulnerable to the sun; childhood sunburns mean a greater risk of skin can- cer, including melanoma, in later life. Make it a family routine to put on sunscreen and hats before going out. Teach children this rule: If your shadow is shorter than you are, stay out of the sun.
BUYING AND APPLYING SUNSCREEN
Sunblocks are barriers that reflect and scatter rays. Unlike the “white stuff” life-guards use, many new blocks disappear on your skin. Sunscreens work differently, with chemicals that absorb specific sun rays, preventing them from penetrating to the skin.
Sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays-UVB and UVA. UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn, but both UVB and UVA rays playa role in causing skin cancer, and UV A rays also promote premature wrinkling. Sunblocks protect against both types of rays. If you buy a sunscreen instead of a sunblock, make sure that the label indicates protection against both
UVA and UVB rays.
If your skin or eyes are sensitive, look for products that are hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and non-stinging (won’t irritate eyes). Be leery, however, of such claims as “waterproof” and “sweatproof.” The FDA has proposed regulations to ban such terms and to apply more stringent standards for such terms as water-resistant and perspiration-resistant.
Certain medicines increase sensitivity to the sun (and sunlamps). These include antihistamines, oral contraceptives, some antibiotics, and antidiabetic and high-blood- pressure drugs. Check with your doctor if you are taking any medications. You may want to use a sun product made with titanium dioxide, which also blocks infrared light (sometimes a problem for photosensitive people).
Choose the type of sun product that works best for you: A spray of mist showers every inch of skin quickly and easily. A lotion that goes on white lets you see where you’ve missed. Ready-made sunscreen-soaked towelettes ease the task.
Test for sensitivity by dabbing some of the product under your chin or on the back of your hand, then seeing if any redness develops after about two hours outside.
Choose a PABA-free sunscreen. PABA sometimes causes allergic reactions.
Apply sunscreen to unclothed areas of your body and those covered only by the thin fabric. Don’t forget your head, especially if your hair is thinning. Other areas to remember: hands, hair part, tops of ears, top of brow, neck, and neckline. When going barefoot or wearing sandals, cover the tops of feet as well.
Put on sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out, to allow time for it to penetrate the skin. Slather it on liberally, but don’t rub it in any more than necessary. Reapply every two hours if you stay outside.
Even with sunscreen protection, no one should stay in the sun for long periods. Be aware that sunlight may interfere with the immune system’s normal workings, and sunscreen ingredients do not entirely prevent this.
Ultraviolet rays can penetrate at least three feet of water, so swimmers aren’t exempt from sun damage.
Put on sunscreen before going into the water, and reapply after swimming. Wear a white or pastel bathing suit to reflect rather than absorb the light.
Toss out any sunscreens that are past their expiration dates. If no date is given, don’t keep them longer than a year and a half.
It’s never too late to start using sunscreen, even if you’ve already racked up years of exposure.
Sun exposure is responsible for vitamin D production in the skin. Those who use sunscreen regularly-particularly the elderly-should consume at least 400 IUs (Internationa I units) of that vitamin daily. Foods rich invitamin D include salmon, tuna, eggs, and milk.
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?
The SPF (sun protection factor) number tells you how long a sunscreen will protect you from burning; multiply the SPF by the amount of time it normally takes you to get red. Those with fair complexions burn fastest (usually in about 15 minutes), but even olive-skinned people can burn within 30 minutes. No matter what your complexion,
be sure to use sunscreen.
A tan actually serves as a natural sunscreen; however, even the deepest tan gives only limited protection- estimated as the equivalent of an SPF of only 4. Thus, regardless of how deeply you tan, you still need sunscreen.
Your skin’s best friend is a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, applied daily-even when it’s cloudy or you’re going to be out only a few minutes. If you work outdoors, apply again every two hours; for office workers, one application is enough.
For lips, you can purchase a balm that contains SPF-15 sunscreen.
Protection does not increase proportionally as the SPF numbers rise. An SPF of 2
indicates a 50 percent blockage of burning rays, while an SPF of 15 indicates 93 percent. But an SPF of 30 increases the blockage only a small amount, to 97 percent. Certain people, however, may want to use an SPF between 20 and 30-for example, someone with his- tory of skin cancer or a fair-skinned person in the tropics.
Don’t use sunscreen on infants under six months old. Instead, keep them under wraps and use shading devices on strollers. After six months, apply a sunscreen with SPF 15. Special sunscreens for children are unnecessary, but you should choose creamy, alcohol-free non-stinging, unscented types.
Perfume can make your skin especially sensitive to sunlight, causing brown spots. When head ing into the sun, coat your skin with a thin layer of petroleum Jelly
before dabbing on any fragrance. Better yet, save the scent for later.
THE MAKEUP CONNECTION
For day-to-day protection, consider moisturizers and makeup (including lipstick)
that contain sunscreen, but make sure that the SPF is at least 15; otherwise, use a separate sunscreen as well. SPF protection is not cumulative; when products are layered, the protection you get is equal only to that of the highest SPF product used.
Apply sunscreen under your foundation or over your day time moisturizer.
THE SUNLESS TAN
A self-tanning lotion will give your skin color but may offer little or no protection. Unless it has an SPF of 15, top it off with sunscreen.
Choose a product without artificial dyes. If you have oily skin or acne, buy a lotion without mineral oil. Colors differ, so don’t mix brands.
Test the shade inside your elbow a day ahead.
Apply the product evenly over freshly scrubbed skin missed spots or heavy dabs result in streaks or splotches. Avoid hair, eyebrows, and eyes, but include the neck and under the chin.
Be sparing on thick-skinned areas, such as elbows and knees, which tend to absorb more and become darker.
Wash the palms of your hands as soon as you’ve finished so they don’t stain. Wait at least 10 minutes before putting on any clothes that will touch the lotion.
Be patient while awaiting results it takes up to six hours for the color to emerge.
If you do end up with streaks, cover the lighter patches with a dark foundation, blending it into the tanned-looking areas.
To maintain your “tan,” you’ll need to redo it in a few days, but remember that too frequent applications may result in blotches.