A healthy dose of sunshine is often thought of as nature’s healing elixir. As the sun greets the skin, it can boost our mood, immunity, vitamin D, and may even protect us from getting some health conditions. But there is also a dark side to spending too much time in the sun—it speeds up skin aging and promotes skin cancer.
Skin cancers can be caused by a combination of genetic factors and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation coming from the sun or artificial lights, such as those in indoor tanning beds and sunlamps. As UVA and UVB rays penetrate the skin, they causesdamage to the skin cells’ genetic material, which can cause the cells to transform into cancer.
In response to a rise in skin cancers in the US, the Office of the Surgeon General released A Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer (2014) with the goal of educating the public about strategies to prevent skin cancer.
Sunburn is the canary in the coal mine for skin cancer. The more you are exposed to the sun’s rays, the more sunburned you can get, the higher your risk for skin cancer. Sun-sensitive people — people who are fair-skinned, freckled, or have light hair and eye color — need to be particularly vigilant when venturing outdoors. Skin-sensitive people can burn in just one hour if they are not protected properly. But anyone can get sunburned, even people with dark skin. People who are overweight, perform exercise outdoors, and binge drink are also at high risk for sunburns.
While there is nothing you can do to change your genetic susceptibility to skin cancer, you can defend yourself by avoiding excessive and needless exposure and by following sun-protection measures consistently and correctly. And sun safety is not just for vacations and trips to the seaside — it should be front-of-mind all year round, and particularly in the spring and summer.
How to Be a Sun-Protection Enthusiast
As a general rule, try to avoid outdoor activities between the hours of 10 and 2 when the sun is highest in the sky, and when the UV index is greater than 3. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) posts the UV index for cities around the US on their Sunwise website and mobile app.
Additionally, practice sun safety every day, even when it’s cloudy and even during winter. Many people make the mistake of relying on just one method. They slap on a few drops of sunscreen and dart out the door. But when it comes to protection against sunburn, you might not realize that barrier methods—clothing and shade—are better than sunscreen alone.
To be a sun-protection devotee follow all five of these sun protection options:
For more information about protecting you and your family from the damaging effects of the sun visit the following websites.
Environmental Protection Agency Sun Safety
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Skin Cancer
American Cancer Society Be Safe in the Sun
American Academy of Pediatrics Sun Safety
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Sun Safety Videos
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