People flock to beaches and spend hours soaking up the rays, but the sun does more harm than good when it comes to our skin. Tan skin actually represents damage to skin, not health. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology has stated that there is no safe way to tan. Every person, no matter race or skin coloring, sustains damage to their skin from too much exposure to the sun, which may include age spots, wrinkles, freckles, skin tearing, discolorations, premature aging signs and skin cancer. The best way to take care of your skin is to protect it from the sun.
Your Skin and the Sun
Melanin, the substance that gives skin its pigment, also acts as a barrier to prevent UV rays from wreaking havoc on your skin. The extra melanin produced in response to sun exposure is what makes people look tan. However, your skin can only generate so much melanin, so a sunburn occurs when the UV exposure exceeds the amount of melanin your body can produce.
Why Sunscreens Matter
The sun emits two kinds of ultraviolet rays that damage our skin, UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays, which account for about 95 percent of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth, pierce deep into the dermis and will cause age spots, wrinkles and skin cancers. Because UVB rays tend to create more superficial damage, these rays produce sunburns, cataracts and immune system damage.
Applying a sunscreen protects your from these rays because sunscreens actually absorb ultraviolet light so that it does not reach the skin. A good sunscreen should have active ingredients such as benzophenones, cinnamates, PABA or salicylates. Working in a slightly different manner, sunblocks literally stop the UV rays instead of absorbing them and generally contain titanium oxide and zinc oxide.
No sunscreen can offer 100 percent protection, but any product with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) should offer a decent level of protection. Always reapply sunscreen when you are outdoors, even if the product claims to be “waterproof” or “water resistant” because waterproof products only provide 80 minutes of protection in the water and water-resistant sunscreens only protect for 40 minutes. Infants under six months should not use sunscreen, so keep them covered and/or in the shade at all times.
Protecting Your Skin
To avoid long-term damage and keep skin looking healthy, remember these tips:
- Apply sunscreen everyday regardless of the weather
- Choose skin care and cosmetic products that offer UV protection
- Do not use tanning beds
- Keep young children out of the sun
- Pay attention to your skin and watch for any changes
- Re-apply sunscreen frequently
- Select a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30
- Stay out of the sun from 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., peak UV radiation hours
- Wear wide-brimmed hats and clothes that cover your body while outdoors
- Use wide-spectrum sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB rays
If You Get a Sunburn
Within four to six hours after time in the sun, your skin will turn red and develop a sunburn if you have spent too much time in the sun. The full impact of the sunburn will appear within 12 to 24 hours. Most mild sunburns cause sore, red skin and peeling. Treatment for this type of sunburn includes cold compresses, cool baths, moisturizers and drinking lots of water.
For more serious burns, watch for blistering. Cover the blisters with gauze bandages and make sure not to rupture the sores because this could lead to infection. With any sunburn, but especially more severe cases, stay out of the sun until your skin has completely healed. In extreme cases, a physician may prescribe oral steroids for infection, as well as pain medications.