Protecting the eyes and skin from the sun is an essential part of good health. You can still have fun in the sun; you just have to put on a little protection first.
The skin is the body's largest organ. It protects against cold, heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Yet, some of us don't consider the necessity of caring for and protecting our skin. The need to protect your skin from the sun has become very clear over the years, supported by several studies linking overexposure to the sun with skin cancer. The harmful ultraviolet rays from both the sun and indoor tanning “sunlamps” can cause many other complications besides skin cancer—such as eye problems, a weakened immune system, age spots, wrinkles, and unsightly skin.
There are some simple, everyday steps you can take to safeguard your skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation from the sun.
Wearing clothing that will protect your skin from the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays is very important. Protective clothing can include hats with large brims, UV-resistant sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. You can fall victim to sun damage any time of year—even on a cloudy day—so dress for UV protection all year round.
Sunburns significantly increase one's lifetime risk of developing skin cancer. It is especially important that children be shielded from any overexposure to the sun that might lead to burns.
Stay out of the sun, if possible, between the peak burning hours, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You can head for the shade, or make your own shade with protective clothing - including a broad-brimmed hat, for example.
Water, snow, sand, even the windows of a building can reflect the damaging rays of the sun. That can increase your chance of sunburn, even if you’re in what you consider a shady spot.
You can experience more UV exposure at higher altitudes, because the thinner air means there are fewer atmospheric elements that typically absorb and reflect UV radiation. That’s why people can get sunburned—especially on their faces—while skiing in the winter months.
Generously apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to cover all exposed skin. The “broad spectrum” variety protects against overexposure to ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The FDA recommends using sunscreens that are not only broad spectrum, but that also have a sun protection factor (SPF) value of 15 or higher for protection against sun-induced skin problems.
Even if a sunscreen is labeled as "water-resistant," it must be reapplied throughout the day, especially after sweating or swimming. To be safe, apply sunscreen at a rate of one ounce every two hours. Depending on how much of the body needs coverage, a full-day (six-hour) outing could require one whole tube of sunscreen.
UV rays are their strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cover up with sunscreen and protective clothing and seek shade during those times to ensure the least amount of harmful UV radiation exposure. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin at least 20 minutes before going outside—particularly during those peak hours of sunlight. Reapply every two hours after swimming or sweating, even on cloudy days.
UV rays can also penetrate the structures of your eyes and cause cell damage. According to the CDC, some of the more common sun-related vision problems include cataracts, macular degeneration, and pterygium (non-cancerous growth of the conjunctiva that can obstruct vision). Think of your eyes and remember to wear:
To protect your vision, wear a wide-brimmed hat that keeps your face and eyes shaded from the sun at most angles.
Effective sunglasses should block glare, block 99 to 100% of UV rays, and have a wraparound shape to protect eyes from most angles.
When planning your outdoor activities, you can decide how much sun protection you need by checking the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) UV index. This index measures the daily intensity of UV rays from the sun on a scale of 1 to 11. A low UV index requires minimal protection, whereas a high UV index requires maximum protection.