Summer is finally here and we will all be spending more time outdoors, thus our sun exposure will increase. The skin is our body’s largest organ and can easily be damaged if safety measures are not taken. It is extremely important that proper precautions are used for the prevention of sunburns now and skin cancer later in life. This article will address sun safety recommendations and the damages that the sun can cause if safety measures are not taken.
Understanding Sun Exposure
The sun, although an excellent source of vitamin D, can unfortunately have many harmful effects on the body. Overexposure to the sun can result in severe sunburns now and more serious skin cancers later in life, such as melanoma. A sunburn results from the overexposure of the skin to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. It is estimated that most people receive 80 percent of their sunburns in the first 18 years of life. Acquiring blistering sunburns during one’s youth doubles the chance of developing skin cancer later in life. The sun doesn’t only affect our skin, it can also be damaging to our eyes. If not properly taken care of during sun exposure, parts of the eyes including the retina and lens can become damaged. Over time, this can lead to the debilitating condition of cataracts, or the progressive clouding of the eye’s lens.
Children who have very fair skin and hair, freckles, and/or a strong family history of skin cancer are even more susceptible to sun damage if the skin is left unprotected. Our body does have a defense mechanism to shield us from some of the effects of the sun. This defense mechanism is called melanin, which is responsible for our skin’s pigmentation and assists our in properly absorbing sun rays, thereby preventing damage to our skin. The darker the skin complexion a person has, the more melanin their body produces. However, this does not mean that people with darker complexions do not have to adhere to proper skin safety measures. It simply means that darker skinned people take longer to burn than those with fair skin.
Sun Safety Recommendations
There are a couple of different measures that can be taken to protect our skin from the sun. The first step is to choose the proper sunscreen for your family. Choose a sunscreen that has a sunscreen protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and make sure the bottle is labeled “broad-spectrum” as this type of sunscreen protects the skin from the potentially harmful effects of both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
Sunscreen should always be applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, even on cloudy or hazy days. In general, one should use about an ounce of sunscreen to cover the body properly. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Remember, sunscreen is only appropriate to use on infants six months and older. You can protect young babies against the sun by placing them in the shade or having them covered and avoiding direct sunlight. When appropriate, dress children in cool, lightweight clothing and large brimmed hats to protect them from the sun. You may even consider buying UV protective clothing if your child is frequently outdoors. Since our eyes can easily be damaged from the sun it is important to use UV protective sunglasses to prevent eye damage. Try to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the UV rays are the strongest.
Living in Florida, sun exposure is pretty much unavoidable. However, proper precautions upfront can do wonders in minimizing short and long-term discomforts and problems. Therefore, it is extremely important to set good examples for children early in life, so that they develop good sun protection habits.