It’s that time of year again. When the mercury soars and the days grow brighter, it can only mean one thing — it’s summer!
While you plan beach outings and lazy days under the sun, take a moment to consider your family’s ultraviolet (UV) ray protection. Harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays may cause early skin aging and increase skin cancer risk, says the American Cancer Society (ACS). From protective hats and sunglasses to sunscreen and more, the following are some simple steps you can take to help reduce your UV exposure.
Though many of us already know sunscreen is an important tool in helping prevent UV damage, it’s important to read labels closely to get its maximum benefit. Although no sunscreen can protect completely from the sun’s harmful UV rays, the higher the SPF factor, the more coverage it generally affords, says the ACS. For this reason, they recommend using a broad spectrum sunscreen (offering UVA and UVB protection) with an SPF of at least 30. SPF 30 sunscreens help filter out approximately 97 percent of harmful rays when used appropriately, according to the ACS.
Using sunscreen appropriately is key. That means applying sunscreen liberally and thoroughly covering all exposed areas, including your ears, hands and neck, says the ACS. An adult would need about a palmful of sunscreen to cover their limbs, face and neck. If you also need to protect your torso, plan on using additional amounts. And if you’re layering bug repellent or makeup, put the sunscreen on underneath first.
Water activities and heavy sweating can both be common features of outdoor summer activities, tempting many of us to purchase “water-resistant” sunscreen. Check the product’s label to confirm how many minutes of moisture-resistant protection it provides — in many cases, says the ACS, the product is only effective for 40 or 80 minutes. You’ll need to thoroughly reapply sunscreen for continued protection beyond that time.
One final, easily-overlooked word of advice regarding sunscreen: Check the expiration date. Like many products, sunscreen can lose its effectiveness over time. Toss the expired stuff and use fresh product in order to help ensure maximum sun protection benefits, the ACS advises.
While sunscreen is an important first step, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing protective hats, sunglasses and clothing to help maximize your UV protection. Long-sleeved, loose-fitting shirts and long pants made from tightly-woven fabrics are good options. The CDC also suggests that dark-colored clothes likely protect better than lighter ones.
Hats with wide brims that protect your head, face, ears and neck may provide the best protection against UV rays, says the CDC. Though many of us favor baseball caps, they generally don’t help protect the ears and neck. The CDC suggests you wear other protective clothing to help minimize exposure to those areas.
Finally, sunglasses can double as both a stylish accessory and essential sun-protection gear. Choose shades that cover as much of your eye area as possible and that offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Fortunately, says the CDC, most sunglasses sold in the U.S. meet these criteria, regardless of cost.
One of the simplest steps you can take to help avoid the damaging effects of UV rays is limiting your sun exposure during peak daylight hours. The ACS and CDC suggest avoiding the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Keep in mind that the sun’s rays are strongest in late spring and early summer, so you may want to exercise extra caution then.
But just because you’re not frolicking on the beach under direct sunlight doesn’t mean you can skimp on protection, either. The CDC reminds us that even incidental exposure — such as walking to your parked car or checking the mail — adds up. You may want to consider taking UV precautions any time you’ll be exposed to the sun’s rays, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
Sometimes, the right solutions can be the simplest. These time-tested methods for limiting damaging sun exposure may provide straightforward ways for your family to safely enjoy the sun this summer.
Originally published August 1, 2014.