This is How You Need To Protect Yourself From Sun Damage

Sean Wu // The Watchdog

Summer started early in Washington this year, giving our bodies less time to get accustomed to increased sun exposure and making sun safety more important than ever. There are a multitude of things you can do to prevent sunburn, avoid sun poisoning and decrease your risk of skin cancer for the future. 

The first one that comes to everybody’s mind is sunscreen. Sunscreen is used to absorb or act as a reflector for sun rays. Broad-spectrum sunscreens are the best, as they block both UVA and UVB rays, both of which contribute to skin cancer. There are two main kinds of sunscreen: mineral and chemical. 

Mineral sunscreens use ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both approved by the FDA as safe and effective. These minerals cause UVA and UVB rays to bounce off the skin. Chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin, absorb sun rays, convert them into heat, and then release that from the body. However, some of the chemicals in chemical sunscreen are dangerous to reefs. The National Park Service estimates that up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter areas in and around reefs per year. Studies have shown that some of the chemicals in sunscreen contribute to the declining health of coral, prompting places like Hawaii to ban them. “Reef-friendly” sunscreens are chemical sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate that can cause coral bleaching. These two chemicals are the more widely studied ones, though others have been observed to have similar effects but need more research. 

When you put sunscreen on, make sure to apply it liberally to all exposed skin. An average adult needs at least an ounce of sunscreen to be completely covered. Reapply every two hours at the least. More often may be necessary if you are in the water or sweating. No sunscreens are waterproof. Sunscreens under 15 SPF have not been shown to prevent skin cancer, only prevent sunburn. Also, no sunscreen completely blocks UV radiation.

This means that behavioral factors are equally important in order to prevent sun damage. Limiting your time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m and wearing clothing that covers exposed skin such as hats, sunglasses or sun-protective clothing are actions that can reduce your risk of skin cancer and sunburn. 

Sunlight reflects off water and sand and can expose eyes to UV radiation and increase your risk of developing eye problems. Sunglasses can provide protection. When choosing sunglasses, the ones that provide the most protection are those with a UV400 rating or 100% UV protection — just because a pair of sunglasses are dark-tinted, does not necessarily mean they have more UV protection than a light-colored tint. 

If you try your best and still end up with a sunburn, there are things you can do to help the healing process. When you get a sunburn, blood vessels under the skin dilate to increase blood flow and transport immune cells to the skin, causing redness, swelling and inflammation. Cooling the skin with ice packs, damp towels or aloe vera gels or applying medicated, anti-itch creams can alleviate symptoms. Staying hydrated is also important to prevent further drying out the skin.

Severe sunburns are also known as sun poisoning. It presents with pain, fever, nausea, headache and skin swelling. This occurs when you get severe dehydration from a burn acquired from prolonged sun exposure. Severe cases of sun poisoning may require hospitalization, but at home they can be treated with cool compresses, aloe vera gel and hydrocortisone cream and by keeping well-hydrated.