What’s your UV IQ? Learn how you can be safe in the sun
Regence Executive Medical Director Dr. Jim Polo helps distinguish myth from fact
As the summer weather warms up and people begin leaving their homes more, it’s important to take precautions when enjoying time outside. This includes physical distancing and wearing a mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as well as practicing sun safety habits for better long-term health.
When you don’t protect your skin, the ultraviolet (or UV) rays from sunlight can damage the DNA in your skin cells, causing premature aging, eye damage and, in some cases, skin cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and the incidence of melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—has doubled over the last three decades.
Many misconceptions exist around sun exposure and the negative effects of UV rays on your health. Regence Executive Medical Director Dr. Jim Polo helps distinguish myth from fact.
The lasting effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays
Experts agree that UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. The strength of the sun’s UV rays varies based on factors like the time of day, your location, altitude and cloud cover.
“The sun’s ultraviolet rays are the most damaging to our skin,” says Dr. Polo. “While UVA and UVB light both contribute to the risk for skin cancer, it’s UVB that can cause the most damage.”
Along with the strength of sun rays, the lasting effects of UV exposure also depend on how long your skin has been exposed without protection from clothing or sunscreen.
Seek more than shade to avoid the effects of the sun’s harmful rays
While seeking shade, such as under an umbrella or tree, can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer, it’s often not enough.
“Your best bet is to use sun protection measures like sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing when you’re outside,” says Dr. Polo. “Clothes made from tightly woven fabric, like canvas, offer the best protection from sun exposure.”
To keep the sun off your face, wear a hat with a wide brim that can shade your face, ears and the back of your neck, which are more prone to burning. To protect your eyes, sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays are preferable.
The effectiveness of sunscreen
One of the best defenses against the sun’s harmful rays is sunscreen. The chemicals in sunscreen interact with the sun, either absorbing, reflecting or scattering sunlight to protect your skin.
All store-bought sunscreens are given a sun protection factor (SPF) number that indicate their effectiveness in blocking UV rays, with higher numbers (e.g. SPF 50) offering more protection.
Since sunscreen easily washes off, plan to reapply it at least every two hours – more if you are exercising or getting in and out of the water. Also consider looking into a reef-safe sunscreen, which is free from chemical ingredients like oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene, known to damage the ocean’s coral reef and other marine life.
And remember, sunscreen works best when combined with other options to prevent UV damage.
Get more helpful tips from Regence Medical Directors on the Regence blog. Check out additional advice on this topic from our medical directors and local experts: