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So what is the ultimate sun protection? Shade! As funny as that sounds, staying in the shade is your best protection from sun damage during these hot summer months. If that's not a possibility, or if you just love the feel of the sun on your skin, there are ways to protect yourself from the harmful UVA and UVB rays of the sun.
Sunlight has three categories; ultraviolet, visible and infra-red rays. Rays are put into a category according to their wavelength, which is the distance from the sun to the earth. Ultraviolet is divided into three sections according to their wavelengths; UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVC rays usually do not reach the earth's surface.
It is the infra-red rays that make you feel hot. This means it is quite possible to burn without having had the feeling that you have exposed your skin for too long. This is how sunstroke begins.
Both UVA and UVB rays are capable of doing damage to human tissue.
UVA rays’ damage does not show up right away. They do not cause painful sunburn, but their effects can be long lasting. They account for about 95% of all ultraviolet energy throughout the daylight hours. UVA's have the power to do permanent damage to our DNA, as well as to the elastin and collagen fibers that make our skin firm and healthy. They can pass through all glass including windows, windshields, and sunglasses.
UVB rays are the rays that cause sunburn. UVBs don't penetrate as deeply into the skin's layers as UVA's, however UVB's are a main cause of skin cancer. UVB’s can’t pass through glass but they do reflect off light colors such as sand, white decks, snow, etc.
Don't let a cloudy sky fool you either. Clouds only block as much as 20% of all UV radiation. Be diligent in the water as well as on land, even in the winter when the sun is reflecting off the snow.
Try and avoid peak "sun damage" hours. You may have heard the expression about mad dogs going out in the mid day sun. Well, that's partially true. You should aim to stay out of direct sunlight from 10:00am to around 4:00pm. Get your yard work done first thing in the morning before it gets hot, or later in the evening when the sun is beginning it's decline in the sky. This advice is especially important for fair-skinned, fair-haired people. Here's a good rule of thumb to go by; if your shadow is shorter than you are, head for the shade!
This also holds true when getting your weekly allowance of vitamin D directly from the sun. The average Canadian only needs sun exposure for fifteen minutes, three times per week and getting this exposure during "off" hours is best.
There are times when being in the sun at all, for any length of time, is ill-advised. For instance, certain prescription medications require you to stay out of the sun while you're taking them. There is an actual condition called Photosensitivity Light Eruption, or more simply put, an allergy to the sun and it's much more common than you'd imagine. Some people are allergic to PABA which disallows them from using sunscreens containing this ingredient. Despite these problems, people with an allergy to the sun can be in the sun for very short periods of time if they use the right type of sun protection.
Cover up exposed areas of skin to reduce the amount of rays that could reach the outer dermis of your skin. There are some marvelous new fabrics out there that are made into clothing for people who have to be in the sun, or for fun seekers who vacation in warmer climates. Barring that, simply wear long-sleeved shirts and loose-fitting clothing. Lightweight, tightly-woven shirts and long pants will block most of the sun's rays. Light colored cotton is most comfortable. And remember, the sun's ray can penetrate wet clothing too. A wide-brimmed hat is always fun and does the job of keeping the sun off your head, the back of your neck, the tops of your ears and your face. A baseball cap might look a little cooler but it doesn't do the job that a wide-brimmed hat does. Choose sunglasses that wrap around and block rays from getting to your eyes as much as possible.
In actual fact, SPF – Sun Protection Factor – numbers were introduced in the early 1960's to measure a sunscreen's effect against UVB rays. They started at "2" and have just recently reached "70".
To determine a sunscreen's SPF, sun-sensitive people were tested and the amount of UV rays it took them to burn without sunscreen were measured. The test was redone with sunscreen. The "with sunscreen" number was divided by the "without sunscreen" number and the result was rounded down to the nearest five. This is the SPF. 1 It really is as simple as that.
Sunscreen should be applied up to 30 minutes before you go out in the sun. It should be reapplied every 2 hours and each time you come out of the water. If you're playing sports and sweating profusely, reapply more often. Remember to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas; the back of the neck, the top of the head, the top of your ears and the tops of your feet. Don't be tempted to stay in the sun longer just because you're using a sunscreen with a higher SPF.
Take special care with children and babies. Watch for signs of too much sun (red skin, lightheadedness, irritability) if your kids are playing outside. Reapply sunscreen often if they're playing around water.
Have fun in the sun this summer, safely!
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 9 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.
1. What Do SPF Numbers Mean?