Whether you start forming healthy sun habits when you're 4 or 40, taking care of your skin is never a lost cause and its never too late to start. Sun exposure occurs every day, even when the sky is overcast and cloudy. This means there is a potential to damage your body's largest organ in all aspects of your life, increaseing the risk of skin cancer, sunburn and wrinkles.
While the basics of sun safety have been drummed into our heads since childhood, they remain just as important in taking care of our skin:
- Avoid the sun when it's at its strongest. When the sun is high overhead, the sun's rays are at their highest power and cause the most damage. In general, the sun is harshest 10am-3pm, but this varies greatly depending on the season, your latitude and also altitude.
- Reduce exposure to the sun by covering skin with clothing. Tightly woven fabrics are the most effective at protecting from the sun. Look for clothing with a UPF rating (Ultraviolet Protection Factor; similar to SPF rating in sunscreens and lotions) for the highest sun protection. It may seem counter-intuitive but loose-fitting long sleeve tops and pants will keep you cool in the summer. Just make sure to choose breathable fabrics (like cotton) in light colors.
- Wearing a hat with a brim helps to protect the most sensitive areas of the skin from the sun. Baseball caps can protect sun damage to the face, but leave the neck and ears exposed.
- Finally, and most importantly, apply sunscreen generously.
Sunscreen is the most effective method to protect skin from sun damage. As the #1 cause of skin aging, exposure to the sun most easily and commonly damages ou face, shoulders, hands, ears and neck. Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. If you are going to be in the water or sweating, be sure to get a water resistant sunscreen. It's important to apply sunscreen correctly in order to maimize its potential benefits. Most people try to stretch out a bottle, spreading less over a larger area of skin. During industry tests that determine sunscreen strength, large quanitities of sunscreen are used, far beyond what is typically applied. Be sure to use at least a tablespoon of sunscreen on the face and one ounce, or a "palm full" of sunscreen to cover the arms, legs and neck.
In addition to applying sunscreen to these areas, it is important to wear it underneath clothing. While it may seem just as effective to substitute a T-shirt for sunscreen, a wet T-shirt is the equivalent of SPF 4 protection. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or after a swim (or heavy sweating). Even with water resistant sunscreen, going into the water can reduce how effectively the suncreen filters light.
Remember that no one is immune to skin cancer. While it is true that people with darker skin have a reduced likelihood of developing the disease, mindful protection is essential to good skin health.