Today's rain brought an end to a 39-day dry streak in Seattle. This uncharacteristically sunny weather, and the fact that it is UV Awareness Month, provides a good time to remind us of what our parents, doctors and dermatologists nag us to do—cover up, put on sunglasses and wear sunscreen.
Almost all of us (myself included) are guilty of not consistently protecting our skin. We expose ourselves to harmful UV rays, ignoring the consequences. In a country where a tan is considered beautiful, and in a city where we feel required to soak up every last drop of those sweet UV rays, covering up is a hard commitment to make. As someone who both burns easily and enjoys spending time outside, here are some things I've learned over the years.
FIND THE RIGHT SUNBLOCK
Sunblock can be expensive, but it's worth the investment. Higher quality sunscreens offer better protection, have a lower "grease" factor and can be easier to apply. Here are some things to look for:
- High-zinc (often labeled as mineral sunscreen, and which typically contains a combination of zinc and titanium oxide) has broad spectrum, full UVA and UVB protection. UVA is the dominant tanning ray, and causes cumulative skin damage. UVB causes most of the burning - and skin cancer.
- Lotion is usually better. With sprays, it's hard to tell where it’s been applied and how well. Sprays can make sense, though, when you are alone and need help with those hard to reach spots, like your back.
- A Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15-50 is usually sufficient, but can depend on your skin type. Any SPF over 50 provides negligible additional sun protection, and may trick you into thinking you need to apply less often.
- If you are swimming or sweating, use a waterproof formula.
- For an added bonus, use sunblock with Vitamin C—or you can also pair any sunblock with a Vitamin C serum.
PROTECT YOUR PEEPERS
Sunglasses are essential if you want to avoid damaging your eyes from conditions like cataracts, cancer and even corneal sunburns (sunburn to the surface of the eye). Eye doctors recommend a pair that have 99-100 percent UVA/UVB protection (the tint doesn’t matter). Not all glasses are created equal, so buy a reputable brand, as some knock offs that advertise 100 percent only actually provide 40 percent protection.
Not a fan of glasses? You can buy contact lenses with UV protection. Be sure to talk to your doctor about options for optimal eye care.
Overcast skies? You can still get a sunburn. Just because you can't see the sun, doesn't mean it can't see you. Make sure to apply sunscreen even on cloudy days, as up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays still pass through. The clothes you wear can also protect your skin from the sun's rays. If you hold up fabric to the light and it's see through, it has less SPF than clothes with denser fabric. In the winter, the snow can reflect up to 80 percent of these rays. In a similar vein, remember to reapply sunscreen every three to four hours. That may seem like a lot, but it's necessary to prevent sunburn and skin damage.
SUNBURNED? IT HAPPENS!
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following for a sunburn:
- Cool it down! Jump in a lake or a pool for a few seconds, then get out of the sun. You can also use cold compresses or cold showers—just keep it short as to not dry it out, and avoid the use of harsh soap.
- Moisturize with lotion and aloe vera while the skin is still damp.
- If you tolerate them, take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin. You can also use an over-the-counter 1 percent cortisone cream.
- Drink hydrating liquids.
- See a doctor if any of the following develop: severe blistering over a large portion of your body, have a fever or chills, or you feel woozy or confused.
Finally, try to remember how bad your sunburn felt so you'll avoid it in the future. Which is sometimes easier said than done!
Did you know?
- Even if you don't burn, a tan is still damaging to your skin.
- You can get a sunburn while driving your car. Tinted windows keep more UVA rays out.
- Experts say you might be better off relying on foods than sun to maximize your Vitamin D intake. The body can only produce limited amounts of Vitamin D from UV radiation. After a few minutes in the sun, your Vitamin D levels actually drop.
Now get back out there and have fun…just don't forget the sunscreen!