UV Safety Month – How to Protect Your Family From Sun Damage
In the midst of the dog days of summer, it can be easy to forget to protect your skin and eyes while enjoying the extended daylight hours. Since ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main cause of skin cancer and can also damage your eyes, it’s important to know how to keep you and your loved ones protected from harmful rays.
Protecting your eyes
“Many people think sunglasses are a fashion statement, but they are necessary to protect your eyes from sun damage not only in the summer but throughout the year,” says Dr. Lindsey Adams
, one of the eye doctors at the UAMS Jones Eye Institute
. “Even just a few hours of intense UV exposure can cause temporary blindness. Accumulated exposure from the sun can heighten the risk of cataracts as well as certain types of eye cancer
. Children and those with light-colored eyes are even more at risk to damage from the sun’s rays.”
Consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat or cap to protect your eyes. And here are some tips on choosing the best sunglasses to protect your eyes:
- Look for a sticker or tag showing that the glasses block 100% of the UV rays. Darker lenses don’t offer added protection, so the information on the label is key.
- Choose sunglasses that are larger or the wraparound style.
- Colored lenses may increase contrast to help you see better to play sports, but the color doesn’t offer sun protection.
- Polarized lenses can make you more comfortable by cutting glare but also do not necessarily offer more protection.
- Sunglasses don’t have to cost a lot to be effective. Discount and drug stores offer inexpensive options that block harmful UV rays.
What are sunscreens?
Sunscreens protect the skin and play an important role in blocking UV radiation from being absorbed by the skin. UV radiation
damages the skin, leading to sunburns and skin cancer
. But no sunscreen blocks UV rays 100%. Sunscreens allow you to be outdoors for a longer time before your skin begins to redden, but they don’t give you total protection. Using sunscreen doesn’t mean you can stay out in the sun for an unlimited amount of time. Damage to your skin
is still occurring.
What does the sun protection factor (SPF) mean?
The SPF on a sunscreen label is a measure of how well the sunscreen protects against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns. But like ultraviolet A (UVA) rays they can also contribute to skin cancer
. The SPF on a label does not say anything about a sunscreen's ability to block UVA rays.
Higher SPF numbers mean greater protection from UVB rays. But no sunscreen can block all UVB rays. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays. A sunscreen with an SPF of 50 blocks about 98% of UVB rays.
How select a sunscreen
A sunscreen protects from sunburn and minimizes suntan by reflecting UV rays. Selecting a good sunscreen is important in protecting the skin. Choose a sunscreen that offers:
- Broad-spectrum protection. This protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- An SPF of 30 or higher
- Water resistance or waterproof. This means the sunscreen provides protection while swimming or sweating for a certain amount of time—either 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the label.
The best type of sunscreen is the one you will use again and again. As long as it offers the benefits above, the type you use is your choice. Sunscreen is available in lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks and sprays. Just be aware that different sunscreens contain different ingredients. Avoid products that have ingredients that can irritate your skin.
How to apply sunscreen
Follow these guidelines to make sure you’re using enough and applying properly:
- Apply sunscreen to all areas of skin that will not be covered by clothing.
- Use at least 1 ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover exposed areas. An ounce should cover the whole body. But you might need to adjust the amount depending on your body size.
- Apply the sunscreen to dry skin about 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. This gives it time to be absorbed.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, or more often after swimming or sweating.
- Protect your lips by applying a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Remember that children need protection from the sun, too. Sunscreens are recommended for everyone over 6 months of age. For babies younger than 6 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics approves of the use of sunscreen only if adequate clothing and shade are not available. Parents should still try to avoid sun exposure for babies
. Dress a baby in lightweight clothing that covers most surface areas of skin. But parents also may apply a small amount of sunscreen to exposed areas. These include the baby’s face and back of the hands.
Don't rely on sunscreen alone
Using sunscreen when you are going out in the sun is important. But it is only one part of an overall plan of protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. Other important ways to protect your skin include
- Seeking shade when appropriate. Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest.
- As noted above, wearing sunglasses and a hat with a wide brim along with tightly woven clothing that covers most of your skin.
- Avoiding tanning beds and sunlamps.
To learn more, please visit the UAMS Health Library.
Have a cool and sunburn free month!