People love the sun! Sunshine triggers the body’s production of vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D is crucial for overall health. It protects against inflammation, lowers high blood pressure, helps muscles, and improves brain function. Exposure to sunlight is encouraged. It has a huge positive impact on depression (seasonal affective disorder) and sleep quality. Adding a little sunshine to your life can be crucial to your well-being.
I have always loved the sun. Maybe I loved it a bit too much and without the necessary protection. At the age of 35 I had my first surgery for skin cancer. Since then, I have had an additional six surgeries for skin cancer and currently I am undergoing topical chemotherapy for an invasive skin cancer. I checked Google Trends and each week, more than 100 people search for how to reverse sun damage.
I’m not going to tell you to stay out of the sun, only how to protect yourself when you are exposed to it. Because, as I mentioned, sun is crucial to your overall well-being.
It’s important to understand that the sun does not go away when it’s cloudy, so don’t be fooled; you should use sunscreen on exposed areas of your skin even when it’s cloudy. Even though clouds block the sunlight, they do not block all of the sun’s harmful UV rays. Gray clouds allow 32% of UV rays to shine through to the surface and white fluffy clouds allow 89% of the sun’s rays through.
That covers cloudy days, but what about those days when we are sitting inside looking out and wishing we were playing in the sunshine? It is less likely that you will get burned unless you are exposed through the window in a sunny spot long enough. When I was younger, my best friend’s sister worked evenings at the hospital and she fell asleep with her feet exposed to the sun for most of the day. She ended up badly burning her feet. Most glass panes absorb about 97% of the sun’s UVB rays: the ones which cause sunburn and some skin cancers. The glass usually absorbs 37% of the less harmful UVA radiation which is equivalent to a SPF30 sunscreen (Science Focus; July 2019). As for car windows, they are a little different because most car windows have a plastic layer between the two layers of glass which blocks all the UVB and 80% of the UVA.
What are the appropriate rules about protecting yourself in the sunshine?
- Apply sunscreen at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outside so your skin has time to absorb it. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
- Make sure it is water-resistant so that it will stay on.
- To protect against cancer, you should have an SPF or 30 or higher. (Lower SPF may protect you from sunburn but will not protect you against skin cancer.)
- Reapply your sunscreen every two hours if you plan to spend the day in the sun.
- If you are swimming or sweating, consider reapplying more frequently.
- Don’t forget your lips. Use a lip balm with a sun protection factor of at least 30.
- The rays of the sun are most intense between 10 and 4 p.m., so be extra cautious during this time.
- Are you going to sit under a cabana and read? Remember that water and sand reflect the damaging rays of the sun, so you will need protection.
- If you plan to protect yourself without sunscreen, dark long-sleeved shirts and pants with tightly woven fabric block the most sun. Some clothes are now available with sun-protective materials also.
- Don’t forget your eyes. Sunglasses with lenses that have 99% to 100% UV absorption provide the best protection for your eyes and the skin around them.
- Don’t forget that certain medications make you more sensitive to the sun. Check your prescriptions before going out in the sun.
Hopefully this bit of advice will help you avoid a bad relationship with the sun. Take care of your skin (which, by the way, is the human body’s largest organ) and you won’t be searching for how to reverse sun damage one day. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t loved the sun. Now that I know how to take better care of myself, I still absolutely love the sun!
Cynthia Jones is a Wellness Strategy Manager for Vitality Group. Since lockdown, she has become a serious scone baker trying odd combinations of flavors. Cynthia has a BFA and enjoys drawing and watercolor. When weather cooperates, you will find her either in her garden or bicycling, two of her favorite things.