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Health Topic of the Month

July: Sun Safety!

Now that summer is in full swing, USFHP wants to remind members about sun safety. It's important to protect both eyes and skin from the sun's harmful rays, also known as ultraviolet (UV) rays. These rays are invisible radiation that comes from the sun (and tanning beds). There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Too much exposure to any of these rays can cause skin damage. It can also increase a person's risk for skin cancer.

There are a number of things you can do to maximize your protection from the sun. The first (and most effective) way is to avoid the sun altogether, but who wants to stay inside all day? The next way to protect yourself is to seek a physical barrier between you and the sun. Suggestions on doing this are below:

Cover up. A hat, shorts, pants, long skirts, and sleeves of any length - these all provide a physical barrier between you and the sun. Generally, darker colors provide more protection than lighter ones; a tightly woven fabric is better than looser fabrics; and dry fabric is more protective than wet fabric. Be aware that clothing doesn't block out all UV rays, so you may have to wear SPF under your clothing. Some clothing and swimsuits have UV protection built right in the fabric!

Shade yourself. If you are outside for an extended period of time, find a tree for shade, or pack your sun umbrella. If you are headed outside to eat, you may want to select a table under the awning.

Limit time in direct sunlight. As you've probably heard before, limit your time outdoors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. During these times, the sun's rays are the strongest.

Sunglasses are a must. Research shows that long hours in the sun without use of UV-blocking sunglasses can increase a person's risk of eye disease. Make sure the sunglasses you choose provide UV protection. If the label says "UV absorption up to 400 nm" or "Meets ANSI UV Requirements," this means the glasses block at least 99% of UV rays. This is what you want! Sunglasses with no label or sticker should be avoided — don't assume they provide UV protection.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Did you know that manufactures are no longer allowed to label sun protection products with the word "sunblock?" That's because there's no product that can completely block out the rays of the sun. Here are some handy tips for choosing and using sunscreen:

  • Choose a product that says "broad spectrum" on the label. This means the sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA rays.
  • Always choose a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher. Anything lower does not reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, but more if you are sweating or in and out of the water. It's a myth that certain sunscreen products are water- or sweat proof.
  • Cover all exposed skin — especially your lips, nose, ears, neck, hands, and feet at least 15 minutes before going outside.

If you get burned, stay out of the sun until you've fully healed! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half of young adults between the ages of 18-29 reported getting burned at least once within the last year. Visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website for information on how to treat a sunburn.

In some severe cases, it may be necessary to seek medical attention for sunburn. See your primary care provider (PCP) if the sunburn:

  • Starts to blister over a large portion of your body
  • Is accompanied by a fever, pain, headache, confusion, nausea, or chills
  • Doesn't respond to home care within a few days.
  • Increasingly swells or becomes tenderer.
  • Produces blisters with yellow drainage (pus)
  • Produces red streaks leading away from a blister

List adapted from Mayo Clinic.

Here's to hoping you have a safe and enjoyable summer (free of sunburns)!

Environmental Working Groups 2014 Sunscreen Guide
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention
Medline Plus