Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer for Americans, and rates of the most serious type of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, have been rising over the past decade. Studies now show that it only takes 15 minutes of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays for skin damage to begin. As we’ve learned more about skin cancer, experts have refined their recommendations for how to protect yourself and your children from too much sun exposure. Here’s some of the best advice from leading experts. Pay special attention to protecting babies and children from the sun, and teach them sun-protection habits.
1. Reduce Exposure
Avoid or limit direct sun exposure during the peak periods of UV radiation intensity: between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Be aware that UV rays can reach the ground year-round but are strongest in the summer. UV rays can reach the ground on cloudy days, too, and can pass through windows. Tinted windows can block some, but not all, UV rays. If you’re on sand, water, or snow, those surfaces magnify UV radiation because of their reflective quality. Immersing yourself in the ocean or a pool won’t help, either. UV rays can pass through water to cause skin damage. Stay in the shade whenever possible. Use beach umbrellas or sit under trees or awnings.
2. Use the UV Index
Before heading outdoors, check your local UV index. The UV index ranges from 2 or less, which means a low level of UV exposure, to 11 or higher, which means extreme exposure. It’s easy to find out the UV index on any given day. You can access it through weather reports. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website and many smartphone apps will also provide updated UV index information. To receive a daily UV index forecast or email alerts, enter your information here.
3. Purchase Sun-Protective Clothing
Your summer wardrobe should consist of more than a bathing suit and shorts. Even a cover-up T-shirt doesn’t provide the skin protection you might imagine. A standard T-shirt offers less protection than SPF 15 sunscreen. Lightweight, comfortable, sun-protective clothing can be found in many types of stores today, including sporting goods stores. This clothing is more tightly woven and can have a special coating to help absorb UV light. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating, which can range from 15 to 50+. The higher the UPF, the higher the protection from UV rays. If you don’t have any sun-protective clothing, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you know you’ll be outdoors. Dry garments provide more sun protection than when wet, and darker colors shield more UV rays than lighter ones. Clothes made from tightly woven fabrics offer the best protection.
4. Cover Your Head
Keep a hat handy. A baseball-type cap helps, but the best hats shade your entire face, including ears and neck, so choose one with a wide brim if you can. Material is important, too. Fabrics with a tight weave, such as canvas, protect your skin better than those with a looser weave or holes that allow the sun’s rays to shine through. As with all clothing, dark colors may provide more sun protection than lighter ones.
5. Protect Your Eyes
Sunglasses prevent UV rays from reaching the eyes, where they can cause cataracts or cancers of the eye and eyelid. This protection extends to the sensitive skin surrounding the eye. Choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays. Check the label to be sure, and though most sunglasses available to American consumers meet this requirement, never assume unlabeled glasses provide any protection. Ideally, buyers should look for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Check the label for the phrase “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “meets ANSI UV Requirements.” While these protect against 99-100% of UV exposure, glasses categorized as “cosmetic” block 70%.The shape of sunglasses also has an impact on how much protection they offer. As with all sun protection, opt for the most coverage. A wrap-around style covers more area than other frames. Unlike as with clothing and hats, however, choosing a darker shade has no proven benefit. Sunglasses get their UV protection from an invisible coating in or on the lenses. While contact lenses with UV protection are available for purchase, their relatively small size makes them inadequate as eye protection.