As the body’s largest organ, your skin needs protection, especially at this time of year. So, in honor of July’s UV Safety Month, we’re answering some of the most important questions, including: What can you do to safeguard against both short- and long-term skin damage? Are there any misconceptions about sun safety? And what should you know about protecting your eyes when it comes to UV rays? Here is what to know.
Common Sun Safety Myths
There is a lot of sun safety information on the internet and, while some of it is true, some is also incorrect or misleading. Here are some common sun safety myths and .
- Myth: Window glass protects me from the sun. Not so fast. While some types of glass may offer some UV protection, this is neither standard nor complete. The truth is that you should wear sunscreen whenever you can see the sun, even through glass.
- Myth: Cloudy days prevent sun damage. Nope. Clouds can’t stop the sun’s invisible UV rays from penetrating your skin and causing damage. Always wear sunscreen outside.
- Myth: Tanning offers a protective layer against skin damage. Not even close. While it is true that you are less likely to burn or peel if you have a tan, the tan itself is a mild form of skin damage. Over time, tanning can lead to severe and permanent damage.
Signs of Skin Damage
So how do you know if your skin is damaged from the sun? Signs of skin damage include, but are not limited to:
- Age spots
- Melasma, or dark patches on the face
- Scaly red or brown patches
In addition, any unusual sores, moles, or pimples should be checked out, as they could indicate skin cancer or precancerous changes.
Know Your Sunscreen
You’re probably already aware that sunscreen is essential in protecting your skin from damage. But it’s important to know exactly how sunscreen works and what you need to do to maximize its effectiveness.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates sunscreen products and has recently updated its guidance for sunscreen users.
- Be sure to choose a broad-spectrum product that guards against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Everyone should use products with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15, while those with fair skin should choose an SPF of 30-50.
- When selecting a sunscreen, make sure its active ingredient is on the FDA’s list of acceptable options.
- Finally, be sure not to use an expired product. If there is no expiration date, discard after three years.
Sunscreen takes some time to kick in, so apply it at least 15 minutes before going outside. Even if the product is labeled water-resistant, reapply at least every two hours.
If you’re spending time in the water or sweating heavily, check the label for instructions on when to reapply. Water-resistant sunscreens are good for either 40 minutes or 80 minutes of swim time.
Use at least one ounce (one shot glass) of sunscreen per adult or child, making sure to cover such areas as the ears, hairline, and back of the neck.
Note: Do not use sunscreen on infants less than six months old. Keep them out of the sun instead.
Protect Your Eyes
The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that, just like the skin, the eyes are at risk for damage from the sun. Many conditions, from eye cancer to cataracts, develop slowly over time. Other conditions, including snow blindness and sunburn of the eyes, can happen quickly. The best way to protect vision for a lifetime is to start using eye protection in childhood.
Choose well-fitted sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection, guarding against both UVA and UVB rays. And be sure to wear them year-round, as reflecting sun off snow or ice can cause extreme pain and vision problems. For even more protection, consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat along with your sunglasses, especially during midday, when the sun is more intense.