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7 Tips for Avoiding the Sun's Damaging Rays

July 1st, 2014 | 2 min. read

By Patricia Burkwall, M.D.

In our foolhardy youthful days, many of us adopted the "lobster" tanning strategy: get a bright-red sunburn as a base, then blister, peel and spend the rest of the summer building the perfect tan.

Unfortunately, studies show that one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence, or five sunburns over the course of a lifetime, more than doubles the chances of developing melanoma. Since July is UV Safety Month, we want to be sure that you know how to enjoy the sun without getting burned by it.

You've probably heard people say, "I never burn," but no one is completely immune to the sun's scorching rays.

The Effects of Sun Damage

Your natural color, or how much melanin you have in your skin, determines how fast you'll start to burn. That's because melanin filters harmful UV rays, much like sunscreen. However, even a dark-skinned person will burn if they're out long enough.

If you are near the equator or at a high altitude (in other words, closer to that burning red ball of fire), you will begin to burn sooner. Plus, certain medications, including ibuprofen and some antibiotics, can make you more sensitive to the sun.

To keep your skin safe, keep the following sun safety tips in mind:

  • The best way to prevent sunburn is obvious: stay inside, especially when the sun is at its strongest (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Even cloudy days aren't safe as UV rays can shoot right through that seemingly protective cover.
  • Seek shaded areas like trees and porches or carry an umbrella to shield you.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants made of tightly woven fabrics. Wear wide-brimmed hats that are light on the outside to reflect the sun and dark on the inside to keep the sun from reflecting onto your face.
  • Fabrics treated with chemical UV absorbers (purchase pre-treated clothing or additives to use in the laundry) go a long way in blocking UV rays.
  • Protect your eyes. Choose sunglasses that provide 100 percent UV ray protection.
  • Even if you think you're well-shaded or covered up, be sure to protect all exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen (to protect against UVA and UVB rays) that's 30 SPF or higher. Apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before exposure to give it a chance to absorb into your skin, and don't forget your ears, the backs of your hands and the tops of your feet. Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours or after swimming or sweating — even if the sunscreen says it's waterproof — or after toweling off.
  • Use a lip balm with sunscreen to protect your lips.

Whether you're at the beach all day, in your car or only out for a few minutes, be sure to defend yourself against the sun. After all, even a red nose is too much!

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Patricia Burkwall, M.D.