The sun can be damaging to your skin. Sunlight contains both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that are damaging to your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. UVA light causes premature aging and UVB light causes burning. Both types of ultraviolet light increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Throughout life the average person has a 1 in 5 chance of developing skin cancer and a 1 in 50 chance of developing the most dangerous skin cancer called malignant melanoma. Excess and unprotected sun exposure and ultraviolet light exposure from tanning parlors dramatically increase your risk of premature skin aging and developing skin cancer.
Unprotected exposure to the rays of the sun burns your skin. The effects often appear within hours of exposure but may not appear for 6-12 hours after the damage has occurred. Your skin becomes red and warm. Swelling often occurs and is accompanied by pain and in severe cases blistering. This skin damage often leads to peeling and further itching in the days following the injury.
If you are taking various medications including antibiotics (sulfa drugs, tetracycline and doxycycline), acne medication containing retinoic acid (Retin A) or a thiazide diuretic for blood pressure control, you have an increased risk for severe skin rashes and increased skin damage after sun exposure.
Sun exposure may also lead to a skin photosensitivity or so-called sun allergy. Such sensitivity may occur hours to days after sun exposure and can include redness, swelling and blistering of the skin. This type of eruption is called a polymorphous light eruption (PMLE).
The first step in sun protection is to protect yourself and be a model for safe sun exposure for your children. Always hunt for the shade and stay out of direct sun during the high sun periods between 10am and 4pm. Remember that sun rays do bounce off water, sand and concrete and always dress right. Wear a wide brimmed hat and clothes that are light in color and have a tight weave that prevents the UV rays from penetrating your clothing’s fabric. Some clothes have been treated with chemicals to prevent these dangerous rays from reaching your skin. A water or surf shirt that is tight fitting and has a high crew neck and long sleeves is also very helpful especially for those who are in the water where sunscreen is rapidly washed off. Sunglasses that offer 99% UV protection are also helpful and protect your eyes from sun damage.
Choose a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection for both UVA and UVB. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 protects you from 93% of harmful UVB sun rays. A SPF of 30-35 is adequate to protect you from 97% of the rays. Higher SPF’s are often not needed and are more expensive. Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure and every 2 hours while you are in the sun. Some sunscreens are water resistant and need less frequent application. No sunscreen, however, is waterproof and the more sweating or water exposure the more rapidly the sunscreen is washed off your body. Everyone must pay extra attention to high exposure and hard to reach areas. Finally, directly applied lotions are better than spray on sunscreens, but spray on sunscreen is better than no sunscreen.
For young children and sensitive areas of your skin consider using a sunscreen that has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. These types of mineral based sunscreen are best for sensitive skin and do not carry the risk of chemical exposure that chemical sunscreens pose. Avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or a class of chemicals called parabens that are included in many personal care cosmetic products as a preservative to decrease the growth of bacteria, mold and fungi. If you need to choose a chemical based sunscreen, choose one that list avobenzone or mexoryl as the active ingredient.
Lastly, when you or your child are are spending time in the sun always be on the watch for heatstroke especially if you are engaging in intense physical activity. Make sure you take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water. If you are not urinating frequently or your urine has a strong color or odor you need to rest, get out of the sun and increase your water intake.