We all enjoy sunny summertime weather, but with warmer weather comes more exposure to the sun’s rays
We often associate summertime with warm days spent outside, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying time with friends and family. And, while this is certainly a great time of year to hit the pool or fire up the backyard grill, it’s important to protect yourself from harmful UV radiation from sun exposure.
Too much sun exposure can lead to uncomfortable burns in the short term, and give us wrinkles, age spots, cancer, and more in the long run.
Thankfully, you don’t have to hide indoors to mitigate the risks of sun exposure. So, while you’re enjoying your time outside this summer, remember to take precautions. With a few simple steps, you can help protect yourself from ultraviolet (UV) rays and lessen the impact of sun damage to your skin.
As good as it feels to sunbathe on a warm afternoon and get a great tan, the truth is that the sun’s UV light is very damaging to the skin. Over time, the fibers in the skin begin to break down, and accelerated aging starts to take place. This can be in the form of sagging skin, wrinkles, and age spots.
Not only that, but unprotected sun exposure can lead to skin cancer – the most common form of cancer in the U.S. The American Cancer Society states that in fact, “most skin cancers are a direct result of exposure to the UV rays in sunlight.”
You may not realize the damage that is occurring because the effects of sun exposure are cumulative – while you can’t see it right now, the skin damage is happening at the cellular level and will continue to happen over time. This means that even without a sunburn, UV rays can still hurt your skin.
And it doesn’t take long. While it may take an entire afternoon at the pool to get that glowing summer tan, the damaging effects of UV rays can start to take effect in as little as 15 minutes.
Signs and symptoms of sun damage
Not sure what sun damage looks like? Aside from obvious trauma like sunburns and heat rashes, sun damage can show up in the following ways:
- Tumors and skin lesions
- Mottled pigmentation
- Yellow-tinged skin
- Dilated blood vessels, especially on the face
Remember, the signs and symptoms of sun damage are cumulative. So, you may not immediately recognize the signs. This is why it is crucial to wear sun protection at all times.
How to protect yourself from harmful rays
First and foremost, broad-spectrum sunscreen is your best defense against UV sun damage. Even if it’s a cloudy day outside, or you don’t plan on being out for long, you need to wear sunscreen. Add products with at least SPF 15 to your morning routine, and reapply throughout the day as necessary – anywhere between 2-4 hours.
While sunscreen is an everyday necessity, you may occasionally find that additional sun protection is appropriate. A day at the beach, a long walk with your dog, or a family BBQ are all reasons to go the extra mile to protect your skin.
If you know the day’s activities will take you outside, plan ahead by wearing protective clothing such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. If you wear a low-coverage hat, such as a baseball cap, apply SPF to your ears and neck.
You can also reduce your risk of skin damage from sun exposure by seeking shade – be it an umbrella, picnic pavilion, or simply trees and nature. Not only will it protect you from sun exposure, but it will help you from becoming overheated as well.
When to see a doctor
It’s a good idea to have regular check-ups with your doctor to asses any skin concerns you have, including sun damage. The American Cancer Society recommends seeing your doctor for anything suspicious you find on your skin – such as irregular or changing moles, or any painful, itchy, or bleeding spots.
It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their life. While this statistic is alarming, many skin cancers are easily treatable with early detection. So, if something seems off, go see your doctor.
Enjoy summer fun in the sun by practicing UV safety
Whether your summer plans include lounging by the pool, playing sports with your kids, or just hanging out together outside, you can enjoy all of the beautiful weather and stay safe, too. While UV skin damage can be dangerous, it doesn’t have to derail your fun. All you have to do is know the signs of sun damage, take protective measures, and consult your physician if you have any concerns.
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