Unlike Ross and Rachel from Friends, being a lobster isn’t always a good thing. A day in the sun can leave you red, burned, and in serious pain. Sun safety is a serious matter, and in the sunny state of Texas, it has been a little slow to take hold.(For those of you who are wondering, the episode of Friends is “The One With The Prom Video,” Season 2 Episode 14).
Although tanning beds have been slowly disappearing from our area, laying out and deliberately avoiding sunscreen in order to get some stellar tan lines is still popular. Most all of us can recall returning to school in the fall touting to one another something along the lines of “OMG! You are so tan!” or “Wow, look at your tan lines! You are so dark!” Why we thought white bands of skin along with brown, burned skin was the epitome of cool, I will never know, but alas, it was the end goal of almost every kid’s summer vacation during my childhood.
The CDC states that skin damage can occur in as little at 15 minutes in the sun, due to ultravoilet (UV) rays. These are the same rays that your sunscreen protects you against, and it’s with good reason. UV rays are what cause skin cancer. Luckily, there are some easy things you can do to protect yourself and reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. The UV index scale used by the EPA helps set guidelines for your level of precaution and level of potential damage due to UV light on any given day. You can easily check your area’s UV level by inputting your zip code into the UV Index mobile app.
The American Cancer Society makes a few recommendations regarding sun safety that are clear and easy to follow. If you are going to be spending time outdoors, try to position yourself in the shade, whether you are under a tree or an umbrella, this will help reduce the amount of direct radiation reaching you. The Shadow Rule can help tell you when it is time to seek some shade or go inside for a bit. However, even if you are sitting in the shade, it doesn’t mean you should skip the sunscreen, hat or cover-up. These items offer additional protection from the sun and indirect rays that are reflected off of the ground and nearby objects. Also, if you choose to wear additional clothing (which you should!), note that dry clothes offer more protection than wet clothes, and dark clothing offers more protection than lighter pieces. The boys in my house are particularly prone to sunburns, so over the years, we have become huge fans of clothing that has built in, tested UV protection, such as the shirts carried by Under Armour.
As far as sunscreen goes, as I’ve gotten older, I have learned about how much misinformation I had been told about sunscreen usage and how much I straight up didn’t know. Hopefully we can shed some light on the situation and get things straightened out today. While I have come across conflicting information regarding some sunscreen information, such as that the CDC recommends at least SPF 15 but the American Academy of Dermatology recommends at least SPF 30, the information is clear and consistent on everything else. When it comes down to it, apply broad spectrum sunscreen every time you are in the sun, and always reapply every 2 hours. The AAP recommends using 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover your body. That is approximately enough to fill a shot glass. Also, did you know that sunscreen isn’t waterproof? It’s actually only water resistant and it has to be reapplied every 40-80 minutes after sweating, swimming, or even toweling off. However, sunscreen is the best protection we have from the sun to date, so it’s important not to skip over the important stuff. Also, don’t forget to cover your lips with a lip balm containing sunscreen, too!
The best information I found about eye protection from the sun actually came from the FDA’s website. Did you know that pricier sunglasses don’t ensure greater UV protection, and darker lenses are not necessarily better protection for UV light? Be sure to buy sunglasses labelled as having UV-A and UV-B protection to ensure that you are protecting your eyes from damage, and pair your sunglasses with a wide brimmed hat.
Think you know everything there is to know about sun protection? Try testing yourself. The American Cancer Society offers a nifty quiz that you can take to check your sun safety knowledge.