Be sun smart with these sun safety tips
Spending time outdoors is a great way to stay active and healthy. But when you're out in the sun, it's important to think about sun safety. Review these tips to help protect you and your loved ones.
Sunscreen is a key part of sun safety. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wearing it every day (your skin can burn when it’s cloudy too). Besides protecting against sun damage, sunscreen may lower your risk of skin cancers and skin precancers.1
When choosing a sunscreen, here’s what to look for:
- Broad spectrum. This type of sunscreen protects your skin from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. (UVA rays cause tanning and premature aging. UVB rays cause sunburn.)
- SPF number. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The SPF number is the level of protection against UVB rays (the main cause of sunburn).2 The American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF 30 or higher. Keep in mind that while a higher SPF blocks more UVB rays (SPF 30 blocks 97%), it doesn’t last longer than a sunscreen with lower SPF. All sunscreens should be reapplied about every 2 hours, or after swimming or sweating.3
- Water resistant. No sunscreen is waterproof. But water-resistant sunscreens typically last for up to 40 minutes of swimming or intense exercise.
Apply 1 ounce of sunscreen — about 2 tablespoons — to your entire body 30 minutes before heading outside. This gives the sunscreen enough time to bind to your skin. Make sure to cover those easy-to-miss spots, like the tops of your ears, back of your neck and the part line on your scalp. Reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.1
Sunblock vs. sunscreen
- Chemical sunscreen uses ingredients that work like a sponge to absorb the sun’s rays. This type of sunscreen tends to rub into your skin more easily without leaving a white residue.3
- Physical sunscreen (sunblock or mineral sunscreen)1 sits on the surface of your skin. It deflects the sun’s rays like a shield, instead of absorbing them. Physical sunscreen usually contains ingredients like zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Opt for this type of sunscreen if you have sensitive skin.3
Check the UV Index
The UV Index lets you know how strong the UV light is in your area on any given day. UV light is measured on a scale from 1 to 11+. The higher the number, the greater your risk of sunburn and skin damage. Check your local weather report for the UV Index (it’s part of most forecasts).2 When planning time outside, remember that the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.3 The sun is also stronger at higher elevations and when you’re near water.4
Watch for signs of sun- and heat-related illnesses
Heat-related illnesses happen when the body overheats and cannot properly cool itself. Certain heat-related illnesses, like heat stroke, can be life threatening.5 Sun-related illnesses can also cause complications. Get familiar with the symptoms so you know what to watch for.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:5
- Increased body temperature
- Heavy sweating
- Decreased urination
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers first aid guidance for treating heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911 right away if you or a loved one has these symptoms:5
- Very high body temperature
- Change in mental state
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Hot, dry skin
- Profuse sweating
Sunburn occurs when your skin is overexposed to the sun or other UV light. It may take a few hours for the first signs of sunburn to appear, and up to 24 hours or longer to see the full effect. Possible sunburn symptoms include:6
- Reddened skin that is tender and warm
- Peeling skin, usually a few days after the sunburn
Sometimes, severe reactions to sun overexposure can happen. This condition, called sun poisoning, may include symptoms like chills, rash, nausea or fever.
Sunburn and sun poisoning symptoms are usually temporary. But sun overexposure can lead to serious long-term effects, like skin cancer. Damage to skin cells can also cause premature aging.6 That’s why it’s important to use sunscreen and protective clothing when you’re outdoors.
Help prevent heat-related illnesses by following these simple rules
- Stay hydrated
- Wear appropriate clothing
- Stay cool indoors
- Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle (even with the window cracked)
Look out for those who may be at increased risk
- People over 65
- People with chronic conditions
- Infants and children
- Outdoor workers
- Low-income households