The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services observes July as National Ultraviolet Safety Month. The aim is to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. In addition to skin cancer, overexposure to the sun can cause eye problems, a weakened immune system, age spots, wrinkles and rough skin.
The skin is the largest organ of the body and helps protect it against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. However, many people don’t realize the importance of protecting the skin. While sun exposure is recommended as it is the primary source of vitamin D which is very important for healthy bones, overexposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer and other health issues. The key is to stay sun safe. Here are some tips that will protect you from harmful UV rays as you enjoy the summer:
- Wear proper clothing that will protect your skin against the sun. Wear clothes that cover as much skin as reasonably possible. Materials with a tight knit or weave can provide excellent protection.
- Protect your head and eyes with a hat and UV-resistant sunglasses.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the peak burning hours are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Stay out of the sun or seek shade between these hours.
- UV levels are greater at higher altitudes because a thinner atmosphere filters less UV radiation. So you have to take extra steps to avoid sunburn at high altitudes.
- For protection against sun-induced skin problems, the FDA recommends using sunscreens that are broad spectrum and also have a sun protection factor (SPF) value of at least 15. Reapply the sunscreen every two hours throughout the day, especially after swimming or sweating.
- Check the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) UV index to decide how much sun protection you need while planning for your outdoor activities. This index measures the daily intensity of UV rays from the sun on a scale of 1 to 11. A low UV index requires minimal protection, whereas a high UV index requires maximum protection.
Sunburn can occur and not all sunburns are immediately visible. They can appear from one to six hours after sun exposure and reach a peak in 24 hours. If you happen to get sunburned, here’s what you should do:
- Apply a cold compress to the affected area(s)
- Take aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) immediately after to relieve the discomfort and inflammation
- Apply a cooling gel or ointment containing aloe vera to the sunburned area(s) which will help soothe and moisturize the area
- Drink plenty of water, and avoid alcohol as it will dehydrate the skin
- If you have skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal. Blistering skin means you have second-degree sunburn. Watch for an infection and if non-prescription medications do not help, see a doctor
- Avoid further sun exposure until the discomfort lessens.