The sun, a medium-sized star that contains about 98 percent of the mass of the entire solar system, is both Earthsʼ friend and foe. For those whose Seasonal Affective Disorders have finally lifted and are gleefully packing away winter sweaters, the sun is our friend. However, too much fun in the sun can be damaging to our bodyʼs most precious covering, the skin. While sunlight provides a healthy dose of vitamin D and raises our spirits, it also emits ultraviolet radiation, a leading cause of skin cancer. However, sunseekers can still benefit from the sun by protecting their skin with sunscreen and sunblock. Sunblock, which usually contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, reflects ultraviolet rays from contact with the skin. Sunblock is typically used on the face and areas sensitive to sunburn. Sunscreen, by contrast, absorbs ultraviolet rays based on their SPF (Sun Protection Factor). One common myth of sunscreen is that the higher the SPF, the more protection it affords.
According to Web MD, the difference between SPF 15 and SPF 30 is only 7 percent more sun blockage. More important than choosing a higher rated SPF is the re-application of the sunscreen every two to three hours. Web MD also suggests searching for a sunscreen that includes antioxidants (such as vitamin C), anti-inflammatories and hydrating agents. Speaking of hydration, it is extremely important to continue drinking water when out in the sun to keep your skin hydrated. Skin damage is cumulative, meaning skin problems occur over time.
One sunburn or a day at the beach isnʼt going to cause skin cancer, but a lifetime of unprotected exposure to UV rays will increase the chances of skin damage, such as wrinkling and melanoma. Despite using sunscreen or sunblock, which only protects the skin from UVB rays, skin is still exposed to UVA rays.
Remember to limit sun exposure during the peek hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the sun is closest to the earth. A cloudy day doesnʼt necessarily make those hours safer. For tanners, the idea of sunscreen seems to defeat the purpose of basking in the sun. “Fake tans,” tans produced artificially through tanning beds and tanning creams, can be just as dangerous as sun exposure through “real tans.”
Studies have shown that once-a-month tanning beds can boost your risk of malignant melanoma by 55 percent Considering that skin damage is cumulative, the younger the tanner, more damage that accumulates.
Tanning creams, which dye the pigment of the skin, do not provide the skin any protection from the sun. The tannerʼs myth is that dark skin provides protection from sunʼs rays; however, skin pigmentation does not have any effect on blocking UV rays from causing skin cancer. Everyone should use sunscreen when out in the sun.
The Wellness Center offers free sunscreen samples and information for anyone looking to protect themselves.