As spring temperatures start their upward climb toward the hot days of summer, a lot of people are already dreaming about sun-filled days at the beach. Sun-kissed skin looks healthy, but behind the glow, UV rays are wreaking havoc on skin cells and layers. The color you see from a great tan is actually damage to the skin’s top layer.
Skin has the ability to protect itself naturally against UV rays, but only up to a certain point. UV rays stimulate melanin, the substance responsible for skin pigmentation. Melanin increases in response to sun exposure, which is what causes the skin to tan. Most medical experts agree that there is no safe way to tan. While the sun helps the body produce vitamin D, overexposure can cause all sorts of health issues such as sunburns, wrinkles, age spots, premature aging, and skin cancer.
The sun emits two types of rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin causing wrinkles, age spots and skin cancer, while UVB rays are responsible for sunburns.
Sunscreen or sunblock, proper clothing and limiting sun exposure during peak heating of the day (typically 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) are all important in avoiding the dangerous effects of the sun.
People often confuse sunscreens and sunblocks, so it’s important to know the difference. Sunscreens help absorb the sun’s rays and prevent sunburns, but they do not stop the skin from tanning. Sunblocks physically reflect UV rays away from the skin. Sunblock creams are thicker and contain titanium oxide or zinc oxide. They start working immediately and are harder to wash off than sunscreens.
When choosing a sunscreen, look for a broad spectrum product with a SPF, or sun protection factor, of at least 15 or more. Be sure to apply liberally over skin at least 20 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure so it can soak into the skin. Reapply every two hours if you will be outside or in water for prolonged periods of time.
Sunscreen products have come under scrutiny and debate the last few years, so some people choose not to use them. It’s still important to wear protective clothing and stay in the shade to have some level of protection from UV rays.
In addition, cloudy days can also pose a danger – up to 80 percent of UV rays can pass through clouds. Also, snow and sand reflect UV rays, so it’s important to use sun protection regardless of outdoor conditions. Finally, be aware of incidental sun exposure while driving or sitting near a window in an indoor setting. UVB rays can’t pass through window glass, but UVA rays can.