There is no such thing as a “healthy” tan. In addition to skin cancer and premature wrinkling, too much sunlight as well as sun lamps can cause severe burns and contribute to skin cancer and the formation of cataracts and corneal damage. Although sunlight is necessary for life, overexposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun is dangerous. Skin cancer is very slow to develop, the skin damage from sunburn accumulating throughout life. Most people receive 80 percent of their lifetime exposure to the sun by eighteen years of age, so it is essential that parents protect their children.
We can protect ourselves from sunrays. Limit sun exposure, purchase a good pair of sunglasses and a lightweight hat that provides shade for both the face and back of the neck, use a sunscreen and wear sun-protective clothing, which usually has a tighter weave or knit and is darker in color. These clothes may have a label denoting the level of protection from UV rays, called the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). The higher the UPF, the higher the protection.
The time it takes to sustain sunburn varies with age, skin type or color, location and altitude, time of day or year, and reflection from water, sand or snow. Don’t be fooled by a cloudy day; up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate clouds, fog and haze. Moreover, we in the Northland also have to be on our guard in the sun. The American Cancer Society research has found that the highest sunburn rates occurred in traditionally non-sunbelt states and the Midwest, thus these people are at increased risk of Melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer. The researchers weren’t sure why, but it is postulated that the people in the sun-belt states may be more conscientious about using protective clothes and cream, while avoiding the sun when the sunlight is the brightest.
Most susceptible are fair-skinned people, but everyone is at risk, especially children. New warnings for day care centers and camps and “sun protection” tents made just for children playing outdoors, are signs of the dangers.
Which sunscreen should be used? The numbers represent a sun protection factor or SPF. Using a product with an SPF value of 6 gives you six times the amount of time before burning. For everyday use it is recommended now to use a product of 30 or more. A higher SPF does not give much higher protection (1%), but that 1% is important, and it gives you longer protection from the effects of the sun. Buy a sunscreen with protection from both kinds of sunrays (UVA and UVB, and if you are an allergic-type person, purchase a product without PABA. Buy a trusted brand, as some products have been found to not have as much protection as is stated on the label.
Because you use a sunscreen product, it doesn’t mean that you can be in the sun as long as you want; these products are just aids to help prevent burning. Reapply the sunscreen after swimming, bathing or sweating, and every few hours during the day, especially on children and fair skin. Do not use these products on infants without checking with a physician. Babies less than six months of age should stay out of direct sunlight. Certain drugs like some antibiotics, diuretics, or birth control pills make the skin more sensitive to sun damage in a reaction called photosensitivity.
Although the skin can be damaged even if it’s not sunburned, and there is conflicting evidence on the efficacy of sun protection creams, using these products along with dressing appropriately and trying to avoid the sun between 10AM and 2PM, remain our best defense against skin damage.