6 ways to protect yourself from sun damage

Who doesn’t like bright, sunny weather? For sure, taking long walks in the park on summer days or getting some fresh tan on the beach sound amazing. It has health benefits too, as sunlight promotes the synthesis of vitamin D in the skin.

But there’s one dangerous thing hidden from the sight that can cause serious harm to your body when you are enjoying a sunny day – and that’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

In fact, there are several different types of rays present in the sunlight, but UV rays are the most dangerous for us. They can cause premature skin aging, skin cancer, eye diseases, and other health issues if you don’t protect your body from them.

And contrary to what many people think, UV rays stay harmful in any weather and season, no matter the duration of sun exposure. That means that even if you spend just 5 minutes in the sun during a cold winter day without proper protection, you’re still at risk.

The good news is that you don’t have to sit at home and hide from the sun all year long. You can enjoy all outdoor activities with a set of protective measures to safeguard yourself against the diseases related to sun exposure. As a bonus, you will enjoy healthy, beautiful skin without premature wrinkles and pigment spots!

Let’s look at why ultraviolet radiation is dangerous, and how you can shield yourself from UV rays.

Photo by Gian Cescon on Unsplash

Why UV radiation is dangerous?

There are 2 types of UV rays that are harmful to us - Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB).

UVA has long waves that deeply penetrate the skin surface and cause wrinkles and pigmentation. UVB has shorter waves that reach the surface of the skin and cause sunburn and redness.

Both these types of UV rays contribute to premature skin aging and cause DNA damage that can lead to various types of skin cancer.

Studies show that the risk of developing skin cancer is even higher if you have pale skin and red, blond, or brown hair. And you should be extra careful if you or someone from your family already had skin cancer.  

Eyes can suffer from UV radiation too. For example, one study demonstrates that exposure to sunlight enhances the development of cataracts, while another study links the increased risk of early age-related macular degeneration with exposure to UV radiation.

How to protect your body from sun damage?

1. Use sunscreen

Photo by Antonio Gabola on Unsplash

Whenever you go outside, use sunscreen on the skin which is not covered by clothes.

There are 2 types of sunscreens: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreen soaks into your skin and absorbs sun rays, while physical sunscreen works like a shield on the skin surface, reflecting sun rays.

It’s easier to apply chemical sunscreen as it gets absorbed by the skin and doesn’t leave a white residue like physical sunscreen. However, physical sunscreen is gentler on the skin, so it’s more suitable for sensitive skin.

Whichever sunscreen type or brand you choose, always look for the following features:

- SPF 30 or higher

- Broad-spectrum (so that it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays)

- Water-resistant

If you stay in the sun for more than 2 hours or swim, reapply sunscreen to make sure you are constantly protected.

2. Wear protective clothes

Photo by Lena Myzovets on Unsplash

Depending on the color and fabric, clothing can be a very effective form of protection from UV lights.

Try to cover as much of your skin as possible when going outdoors – the best choice would be wearing lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants. Choose bright or dark colors, as they absorb UV rays, preventing them from reaching the skin. Wear loose-fitting clothes that have tightly woven fabric, like denim.

Some clothes contain information on ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) on their label – this shows the fabric’s ability to block UV rays. The higher the UPF, the better your skin will be protected from UV radiation.

Wearing a hat also helps shield your skin from the sun. Choose hats with wide brims as they can effectively protect your face, ears, and neck.  

3. Protect your eyes

Photo by Sebastian Coman Travel on Unsplash.com

In any season, wear sunglasses whenever you go outside in the sun. That accessory is not just a stylish detail completing your summer look, but also an effective tool for protecting your eyes from diseases linked with excess sun exposure all year round.

Not all glasses offer the same level of protection, and the shades of lenses do not actually indicate how much UV radiation they block. For example, light-tinted sunglasses may be as effective for keeping ultraviolet rays off your eyes as dark-tinted ones.

Instead, focus on the UV protection level when choosing sunglasses. It’s best to get glasses with UV 400 or 100% UV protection - they will effectively shield your eyes from both UVA and UVB radiation.

In addition to sunglasses, a wide-brim hat, that we already mentioned earlier, will also protect your eyes and eyelids.  

4. Stay in the shades

Photo by Apostolos Vamvouras on Unsplash.com

Even on a cloudy day, a major part of UV rays can still reach you through the clouds and haze. So try to be in shades as much as possible when going outside.

Note that not all shades are equally effective for protection from sunlight, as sometimes, UV rays can be reflected from the ground and still reach your skin.

For example, big trees with dense foliage can provide good protection, while the shade from the beach umbrella will not be safe, as sun rays will be reflected on you from the sand. And that brings us to the next point.

5. Be extra cautious in risky conditions

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Some surfaces like sand, snow, and water reflect sun rays which then hit your body even if you are in the shade, so be extra careful when you’re on the beach or skiing outdoors.

Another risk factor is altitude, as the higher it is, the more intensive UV radiation becomes.  When you do outdoor activities at high altitude like mountain skiing and hiking, make sure to use all possible protective measures to safeguard your skin and eyes from UV rays.

Finally, avoid being in the sun when it’s the most active during the day – from 10 am to 4 pm. At least, be extra careful during this time and use as many protective measures as possible.

6. Avoid artificial sources of UV radiation

Photo by Steve Barker on Unsplash

Like the sun itself, tanning beds, mercury-vapor lamps, some types of lasers, and other tools can emit UV radiation too.

For example, studies show that ultraviolet radiation coming from indoor tanning devices (such as tanning beds and booths) can also increase the development of skin cancer – particularly, melanoma. So, getting tanned in a tanning bed is not in any way safer than laying under the scorching sun on the beach.

While getting some sunlight helps the production of vitamin D in your body, it’s not a good reason to stay in strong sunlight for a long time, as the price can be too high. Instead, consider taking vitamin D supplements, as getting overexposed to the sun can make you look older and develop skin cancer along with other negative health consequences.

Protect your skin and eyes from UV radiation, and you will prolong the youth of your skin, prevent the appearance of wrinkles and pigment spots, and reduce the risk of skin cancer and eye diseases.

Cover photo by joshua yu on Unsplash

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