The warm weather is here and now is the time to go out and enjoy the summer sun! Due to the increased time we spend outside, we will be exposed to more sunshine. Sun exposure is necessary because many of us benefit from Vitamin D and sun exposure is a primary source. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for the body because it helps us absorb calcium for stronger and healthier bones. Vitamin D also plays a role in the health of other areas in the human body. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone that is important for maintaining a strong immune system, protecting us against certain diseases including cancer and supporting the cardiovascular system.
Sunlight contains three types of ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA rays cause skin aging and contribute to skin cancer, such as melanoma. UVA rays pass effortlessly through the ozone layer and make up the majority of our sun exposure. UVB rays also can be dangerous, by causing sunburns and skin cancer. Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is thought to be associated with severe UVB sunburns that occur before the age of 20. Most UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, but enough of these rays can pass through to cause serious damage to the skin. UVC rays are the most dangerous, these rays are blocked by the ozone layer and don’t reach the earth.
A point to mention, not all sunlight is “equal” in UV concentration. The intensity of the sun’s rays depends upon the time of year, as well as the altitude and latitude of your location. UV rays are strongest during summer. Extra protection is required near the equator, where the sun is strongest, and at high altitudes, where the air and cloud cover are thinner, allowing more damaging UV rays to get through the atmosphere. UV rays react with a chemical called melanin that is found in skin. Melanin is the first defense against the sun because it absorbs dangerous UV rays before they can cause serious skin damage. Melanin is found in different concentrations in the skin, which results in different skin colors. The lighter the skin color, the less melanin in the skin. As the melanin increases in response to sun exposure, the skin tans. Sunburn develops when the amount of UV exposure is greater than what can be protected by melanin in the skin.
There are a number of ways to prevent sunburn:
- Avoid the sun’s rays when they are the strongest, which is usually between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you must be in the sun between these hours, be sure to apply and reapply sunscreen.
- Sunscreen is essential if people are going to be outdoors. What matters most in a sunscreen is the degree of protection from UV rays it provides or the SPF (sun protection factor) numbers on the labels. Select an SPF of 30 or higher and apply sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply sunscreen often, approximately every 2 hours. Reapply after sweating or swimming.
- Apply sunscreen even on cloudy, cool, and overcast days. UV rays can travel through the clouds and reflect off sand, water, and concrete. Often, people are unaware that they are susceptible to sunburn on a cooler day because the temperature outside keeps the skin feeling cool.
- Another way to protect yourself from UV rays is to cover up. Clothes, umbrellas, sunglasses or other sun protective gear can screen out harmful UV rays.
Some medications increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any prescription (especially antibiotics and acne medications) or other over-the-counter medications can increase sun sensitivity. Enjoy the summer and remember to protect your skin!