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Summer is a time of sun, water and relaxation. Preparing for a day at the beach might involve packing water, your favorite book, sunglasses and sunscreen. However, which sunscreen should you bring? What does SPF mean? Is it safe to be out in the sun? How much sun exposure is too much? There are many questions to consider, but in reality some simple guidance will help you make a good choice.
Benefits of the Sun
First of all, it is important to consider the benefits of sun exposure. In today’s society we hear about the dangers of sun exposure so often that the benefits are often forgotten. The UVB rays in sunshine provide you with essential vitamin D. In fact, Americans are dealing with a huge vitamin D deficiency because of a lack of sun exposure. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to other cancers including breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. Clearly, getting the right amount of UVB rays to avoid vitamin D deficiency is an important step.
How Much Sun?
The pigmentation in your skin is a factor affecting the amount of sun exposure you need. In general, a darker skin color acts almost as a sunscreen repelling some of the UVB rays; therefore, people with darker skin will need more time in the sun than someone with fair skin. Partial exposure in the sun, meaning your face, neck and arms, will require on average 10 to 20 minutes of sunshine to get the vitamin D you need. The key here is that you cannot use sunscreen as it filters out the UVB rays.
So, when should you use sunscreen? All people, especially children and infants, should apply sunscreen, any time they will be outside. The only exception should be the 10-20 minutes of exposure for the purpose of vitamin D. Children are highly susceptible to sunburns. Even if a child’s skin appears pink, this may develop into a sunburn the next day. Studies have linked childhood sunburns to an increased chance of skin cancer. If you are outside, you should choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. The SPF, or sun protection factor, refers to the length of time you can expect to be protected before needing to reapply again.
Other ways to protect yourself while out in the sun include wearing sunglasses, wearing a hat and wearing lightweight clothing. When you combine these strategies with wearing a proper SPF sunscreen, you can stay outside longer in the sun. Many people assume that cloud cover offers protection. To some extent, this is true; however, the clouds do not filter out all of the UVA and UVB rays. You should still take preventative measures to stay protected, especially when outside during the hours of 10 AM to 2 PM.
While it is true that extensive sun exposure can prematurely age skin and can even cause some skin cancers, there are some necessary benefits from sun exposure. The key idea is moderation. Look for 10 to 20 minutes of unprotected exposure per day and after that use clothing and sunscreen for protection. With these simple steps, you can enjoy your time in the sun.
Peter Wendt is an Austin writer. He recently visited California, and while on vacation had some questions about how the sun impacts skin. California Skin Institute is a great place in California to have these questions answered.