When you’re having fun outdoors, it’s easy to forget how important it is to protect yourself from the sun. Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays in as little as 15 minutes. Yet it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure.
Even if it’s cool and cloudy, you still need protection. UV rays, not the temperature, do the damage. Clouds do not block UV rays; they filter them—and sometimes only slightly. Remember to plan ahead, and keep sun protection handy in your car, bag, or child’s backpack.
Tan? There’s no other way to say it—tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the color of your skin after time outside—whether sunburn or suntan—indicates damage from UV rays. Using a tanning bed causes damage to your skin, just like the sun.
Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types, called basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. But melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous.
Anyone can get skin cancer, but some things put you at higher risk, like having—
- A lighter natural skin color.
- A personal history of skin cancer.
- A family history of melanoma.
- Exposure to the sun through work and play.
- A history of sunburns early in life.
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
- Blue or green eyes.
- Naturally blond or red hair.
How to Protect Yourself
Take precautions against sun exposure every day of the year, especially during midday hours (10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.), when UV rays are strongest and do the most damage. UV rays can reach you on cloudy days, and can reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.
- Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
- Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
- Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
- Put on sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. The UV rays from them are as dangerous as the UV rays from the sun.