Protect Yourself from the Effects of the Sun

This time of year, everyone wants to be outside. Being in the sun just feels good.  Have you ever wondered why?  You have probably also heard that being out in the sun without protection will cause premature aging (a.k.a., wrinkles and/or leathery skin) or even skin cancer.

The Sun and Your Skin

Sunlight can cause changes in your skin:

  • Freckles
  • Fine and Coarse Wrinkles
  • Discolored areas of the skin, called mottled pigmentation
  • Talangiectasias
  • Elastosis
  • Benign tumors
  • Pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesion-caused by loss of the skin’s immune function

“Skin cancer is caused by mutations that occur in skin cell DNA, which then cause the abnormal cells to multiply out of control. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the most common cause of the DNA mutations that cause skin cancer. UV radiation is found in sunlight and tanning lamps and beds.” (

There are different types of UV radiation.  UVA radiation has the longest wavelengths. UVB wavelengths are shorter, UVC has the shortest.  Because UVA radiation has the longest wavelength, it can penetrate the skin to the 2nd layer. UVB only affects the first layer.  Both UVA and UVB can damage your skin.

Benefits of Sunlight

Before getting scared and never going out again, let’s keep things in perspective.  There are some great benefits to be found in sunlight.

Our bodies metabolize sunlight into vitamin D.  Drs. Frank and Cedric Garland from the University of California, San Diego found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and cancer, and current research indicates that vitamin D deficiency increases risk of many cancers. You can read about one study in which vitamin D supplementation produced a 60% drop in the risk of developing cancer.

Other benefits include:

  • Beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients.
  • May lower risk for multiple sclerosis.
  • Helps heal psoriasis.
  • Can ease mild depression
  • Contributes to bone health in older adults
  • Can improve sleep quality.

The point is that there are many benefits from sunlight.  The key is to protect yourself.

Enjoy Yourself in the Sun

Protecting yourself from harmful UVA and UVB radiation from the sun is actually not hard.  In our article “Sun Protection and Sunburns,” we presented the ABC’s of staying safe in the sun. It’s important enough that we are repeating them here.

A: Avoid

Avoid the sun when it is strongest:  10AM-4PM.  When you are outdoors, find shade if possible.

B: Block

Wear sunscreen that is waterproof and at least SPF 15 or more. Use SPF 30 or more for children (and consider it for yourself).  Be sure your skin is dry before applying.  Choose a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.  You might consider using SPF 30 lip balm.

Sunscreen should be applied to all areas of your body that will be exposed to the sun at least 15 minutes before going out.  Reapply every 2-3 hours or more often when swimming or sweating.

C: Cover Up

Wear clothing that covers the skin including hats and sunglasses that block UV rays.  You might even consider clothing made with sun-protective fabric.

One Last Thing to Keep in Mind

Some cosmetics, antibiotics, birth control or other medication and even some natural herbs increase sensitivity to UV rays.  Check with your doctor for guidelines regarding any medications or supplements that you might be taking.

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