Protecting your skin from sun damageMost of us enjoy outdoor activities during the hot summer months.  However, exposure to the sun for as little as 15 minutes can damage skin and eyes.  The sun gives off harmful radiation in the form of ultraviolet (UV) rays that are not visible and are present even on cloudy days.  Exposure to UVA and UVB rays is a major risk factor for most skin cancers.  People with fair or light skin are more susceptible to sun damage, but darker-skinned people are also affected.

UVA rays can cause long-term damage to skin and premature aging.  Effects from overexposure to the sun include wrinkles, dark spots, pre-cancerous actinic keratoses, and some skin cancers.  UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and are believed to cause most skin cancers.  Ultraviolet rays are stronger in the spring and summer months.  The rays are more damaging during the hottest part of the day, between 10 am and 4 pm.  They can reflect off surfaces like water, sand, and pavement.  Cloud cover lessens the exposure to UV rays, but they can still penetrate clouds.  Weather reports often list a UV Index, which measures how strong the UV light will be.  The higher the number, the greater the risk.

Our eyes are also at risk from exposure to UV rays.  protect eyes and skin from sunEye problems related to sun damage include cataracts, macular degeneration, sunburn of the eye surface, and cancers of the eyelids.

How do we protect our skin and eyes from sun damage?  Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher on any exposed skin.  Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming.  Wear a hat with a broad brim to protect the face, ears, scalp, and neck.  Avoid straw hats with holes that allow the sun to get through.  Long sleeve shirts and long pants protect the arms and legs.  UPF rated clothing offers protection from UVA and UVB rays.  Stay in the shade when possible.  To protect the eyes, wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays.  Wrap around sunglasses work best to protect from the side.  Don’t forget sunglasses for your children.  Their eyes need protection from UV radiation too.  Sun damage to the eyes and skin can be cumulative from childhood.