Summer may be halfway over, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to take steps to protect yourself from the sun. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be dangerous all year long, not just to your skin, but to your entire body. There are two types of UV rays, both of which can have negative effects on your health. UVA rays cause skin tanning and aging, while UVB rays cause sunburns and skin cancer. Therefore, it’s important to choose a sunscreen that protects against both types of rays; such products are usually labeled “broad-spectrum.”
When choosing a sunscreen, aim for an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher, and be sure to apply it at least 30 minutes before heading outside. Reapply it every 2 hours, or sooner if you get wet or are sweating a lot; just because a sunscreen is “waterproof,” that doesn’t mean that a single application of it will last all day. You can also minimize your skin’s exposure to the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and ears, and avoiding direct sunlight between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest.
Your skin is not the only part of your body at risk for sun damage, so take steps to protect other sensitive areas like your lips and eyes. Wear a lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher, and follow the same rules for applying sunscreen. Make sure your sunglasses are not just providing a cosmetic benefit; choose ones that feature an ANSI label that will let you know how much sun protection they’re providing. ANSI, or the American National Standards Institute, divides sunglasses into three categories:
- Cosmetic: Lightly tinted lenses, good for daily wear. Blocks 70% of UVB rays, 20% of UVA, and 60% of visible light.
- General purpose: Medium to dark lenses, fine for most outdoor recreation. Blocks 95% of UVB, 60% of UVA, and 60% to 90% of visible light. Most sunglasses fall into this category.
- Special purpose: Extremely dark lenses with UV blockers, recommended for places with very bright conditions such as beaches and ski slopes. Blocks 99% of UVB, 60% of UVA, and 97% of visible light.
If you’re outside most of the day, during the summer or any time of the year, make sure you’re wearing Special Purpose glasses and applying sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher. By taking these simple steps, and performing monthly skin checks to look for new or changing moles, you’ll be reducing your risk of melanoma and leaving your skin looking healthier for years to come.