By Lucy Maher
Come summertime, chances are you’re spending more time outdoors, whether that’s catching up on your beach reading, enjoying backyard BBQs, or chasing the kids around the pool.
That, of course, means plenty of exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. They include ultra-violet, or UV rays, which are the number-one cause of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. UV rays tend to be strongest June through August. Too much of it can result in nasty sunburns, eye damage, and premature wrinkles.
The good news? By adopting a few smart strategies, you and your family can enjoy the warm weather worry-free.
“Sun protection and good sun habits are a must for everyone,” says Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco. “It’s never too late even if you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer.”
One of the simplest ways to stay safe from UV rays is to outfit yourself and your kids in sun-protective clothes. Note, though, that what you choose to wear matters. A long-sleeve shirt is better than no shirt under the scorching sun, for example, but UV rays can still filter through regular fabric, especially if it’s a light color.
Some families opt instead for specially made sun protective clothing that is weaved more tightly than street clothes and coated with a film that repels UV rays. They often have a UV protection factor (UPF), which is the level of UV protection the garment provides, and typically on a scale from 15 to 50-plus.
Time Your Time Outdoors
Another way to stay safe outdoors is to limit your time under the sun to before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.; this window is when the sun and its UV rays are strongest.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to stay cooped up for most of the summer day. When out and about, do your best to avoid UV rays by seeking shade as much as possible. UV rays can penetrate un-tinted windows, so be sure to cover up while in the car. And bring an umbrella to the playground or park if adequate tree cover isn’t available.
By now, you probably know the importance of slathering up, especially if you have suffered through painful sunburns in the past. But you may be confused by all the SPF products available. In addition to a range of sun protection factors (SPF) to consider, you also must choose between mineral or chemical-based products. Mineral, or physical, sunscreen formulas repel UV rays; chemical-based formulas, on the other hand, rely on carbon compounds to create a chemical reaction that changes UV rays into heat, then releases that heat from the skin.
Mineral sunscreens have their pros and cons, says Dr. Jenny Liu, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. She says they offer “the best UV protection, are safer on kids and adults, not absorbed past the skin, and work instantly.”
On the other hand, they “can be hard to spread, leave a white pasty/overcast look, [and are] not ideal for darker skin tone,” she says.
Chemical sunscreens tend to go on clear, or “are more cosmetically elegant,” says Dr. Liu. However, “they can irritate sensitive skin, and some people may be allergic to certain ingredients. You also need to wait 20 minutes for it to be absorbed into skin.”
You may find it best to alternate uses depending on the scenario (one for a daily cream, one for times you’ll be doing summer activities). No matter what you choose remember that protecting yourself from the sun should be a multifaceted approach for you and the whole family.
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