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Protecting Your Skin: Sunscreen, Sun Hats & the Best Times to Be Outside

Have you ever thought that you were safe from the sun’s harmful rays because it was a cloudy day or you were swimming in the water? Well, nothing could be farther from the truth. Water and clouds actually do not protect against UV rays. However, there are many things you can do to help protect yourself and your family when outside. Dr. Ryan Murray of WakeMed Physician Practices – Garner Primary Care tells us more below about sun damage and skin protection.

With each deep sun exposure or sunburn, the cells of the skin are damaged. Your body protects itself by repairing or replacing the damaged cells. It then prepares for further damaging UVA /UVB rays by increasing the amount of melanin (pigment) in the cell. This leads to a tan, freckles and benign moles. Damage that is not repaired leads to premature wrinkling, cracked and thinned skin, and skin cancer with the potential for malignancy (or cancer traveling from site of origin to other locations).

In addition to skin that becomes blistered, skin that peels and premature wrinkling, sun damage can lead to benign melanotic or cancerous lesions. Therefore, take steps to protect yourself and your family members when enjoying time outdoors, even when the sun is hiding behind the clouds.

  • Stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are most dangerous. If you do go outside between these hours, wear a sunscreen that is SPF 15 or greater, and check the label to ensure it blocks UVA and UVB rays.
  • Most brands of sunscreen that provide the SPF rating work for sun protection. Many brand names vary by the additives they use (i.e. zinc oxide, colorant that fades) and the delivery method ( rub on vs. spray on). Some are “sweat proof” which generally means that they last longer between applications and run less. Some major brands are now offering lotions that are free of parabens and PABA (additives that may cause some skin irritation).
  • Sunscreen should be liberally applied 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied every two to three hours and after sweating or swimming.
  • There is no specific age indicated for sunscreen use, however, most physicians recommend keeping newborns out of the heat/sunlight for the first several months of life. The use of sunscreen on exposed areas (including bottoms of feet) when necessary is recommended. Many brands now offer tear-free formulas in addition to being PABA/paraben-free. For babies, use wide brimmed hats and loose breathable clothing with SPF ratings higher than 15. Most baby sunscreens are SPF 50 and UVA /UVB broad spectrum protective.
  • When outside, adults and older children should also wear wide brimmed hats and long sleeves. Baseball caps do not protect the tops of the ears or the back of the neck. These are common areas for skin cancer in men. The legs are the most common for women.
  • For even more protection, wear tight woven clothing that provides SPF protection.
  • And what about Vitamin D? Vitamin D is a nutrient that our skin makes with sunlight or we absorb through dietary supplementation. It is needed for health and strong bones. UV radiation necessary for Vitamin D synthesis is about 15 minutes collectively on any exposed surface. All experts agree that using tanning booths or getting a “base tan” is not healthy and not necessary for adequate Vitamin D levels.