It’s getting easier to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Why? Because researchers have learned so much about the importance of regularly protecting our skin.
Even using sunscreen is now more commonplace than using “suntan lotion.”
Several studies link skin cancer to overexposure to the sun, and support the need to regularly protect our skin. Now, more and more people opt for sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. What’s more, researchers are telling us that sun exposure may be linked to eye problems, a weakened immune system, age spots, wrinkles and other skin issues.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, so it just makes sense to take simple steps to protect it. Use sunscreen regularly and reapply often; wear hats, lightweight clothing and sunglasses for coverage; and opt for moving into the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the ultraviolet (UV) rays are strongest.
A broad spectrum sunscreen defends the skin against overexposure to ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UV radiation is invisible to the naked eye, because its wavelengths are shorter than visible light. In particular, UVA rays contain longer waves that cause lasting skin damage and aging, and UVB rays contain shorter waves that lead to sunburn and skin damage; but both can cause skin cancer.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most preventable cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds.
When planning your outdoor activities, decide how much sun protection you need by checking the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) UV index. This index measures the daily intensity of UV rays from the sun on a scale of 1 to 11. A low UV index requires minimal protection, whereas a high UV index requires maximum protection. You can help yourself by applying sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going outside, and then every hour or two after that
For more tips on prevention and protection, check out the VA Employee Health and Wellness Program.