We’re all ready to be outside and take advantage of the sunshine and warm temperatures now that summer has arrived. This sun exposure can be good for your mood and energy levels, but too much can cause sun damage to your skin which can be very harmful and result in future health complications. Sun protection can be especially important for those who have compromised immune systems or are predisposed to certain cancers. Here are some tips to enjoy the sun safely to prevent extensive sun damage and protect your skin.

What is sun damage?

In the summer, higher levels of ultraviolet light reach us through the atmosphere. This more direct UV light penetration is what causes the actual damage to your skin when you get a sunburn.

Sun damage is an umbrella term that covers a vast array of conditions caused by exposure to UV rays. Some examples of sun damage are:

  • Tanning
  • Sunburn
  • Sun poisoning
  • Sun spots
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Dry skin
  • Skin cancer (in extreme cases of prolonged and recurring sun damage)

Most of us don’t consider tanning to be a form of sun damage until there is visible evidence of burning. When this occurs, the redness we see is the skin inflaming and dilating blood vessels in response to direct and prolonged exposure to the sun’s rays. The skin will lose hydration, tighten, and eventually peel away damaged cells. 

Tanning without burning is also a mild form of sun damage. Any change in the natural color of your skin tone is evidence of an increase in melanin. Melanin is a natural, dark pigment found in both animals and humans that protects our skin from UV exposure. Therefore, any darkening of skin is your body creating a defense against further damage caused by the sun. If you do choose to tan, increasing exposure gradually while maintaining some form of skin protection is usually safer and reduces the risk of heavier burn damage.

How do I engage in healthy sun exposure?

The first and most effective way to engage in healthy sun exposure is using sunscreen. But you need to make sure you are using a high enough SPF that can withstand high UV indexes and reapply consistently throughout the day. Skin is porous and can absorb many of the things we put on it. After an extended amount of time, the sunscreen you applied will be soaked up, sweated off or rubbed away and will require reapplication. 

Try setting a timer to remind yourself when to reapply and use an SPF of at least 30. Children or those with sensitive skin should use a stronger SPF. Don’t forget to also use sunscreen on your face, lips and wear UV protection sunglasses. If your skin is exposed to heavy sweating, rubbing from high activity, or a dip in the water, you will need to reapply more frequently. 

Try looking up the UV index on days you plan to spend outside. A higher UV means more exposure and increased likelihood of damage. High UV levels of 6-10 mean burning can occur in as little as 10 minutes in the sun. But UV levels do vary throughout the day. Try spending the majority of time outside earlier in the morning and the late afternoon or evening. The sun is at the highest point in the sky from the hours of around 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and UV light exposure is highest at those times. If you’re outside during these hours, remember to reapply and wear clothing to help cover as much of your skin as possible. Wearing light colored, cotton fabrics can help prevent overheating and sweating.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, remember to always engage in social distancing practices while outside. This includes wearing masks, avoiding crowded spaces, and maintaining a distance of at least six feet from those around you.

Protecting your skin is extremely important to prevent extensive and prolonged sun damage. Following the tips above and being informed is the best form of protection. So slather on some sunscreen and take advantage of the good weather. From the Acuity Family, we wish you a fun and safe summer season!

For more information on sun damage and tips for healthy sun exposure, take a look at these articles. 

Dermalogica on Sunburn

UC San Diego Health’s 10 Skin Cancer Myths Debunked

WebMD Sun Safety Tips

National Cancer Institute on Sunlight