With the ushering in of those warm and wonderful summer months, sunny weather is finally on its way and there’s nothing better! Who doesn’t love soaking up some much-needed vitamin D? But time spent outdoors brings the possibility of damaging your body’s largest organ—your skin! It’s vitally important that you do all you can to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Luckily, there’s a ton of things you can do to make sure your skin is covered—literally! Here’s what you need to know to keep your skin healthy and happy during the summer months.


With all the bad rap the sun gets it can be easy to want to hide away completely. But don’t do that. Being in the sun is a vital, natural process that helps us stay active and healthy. When the sun comes up, it tells our body’s internal clock that it’s time to rise and shine. When the sun disappears again, our body knows it’s time to sleep. The sun also helps warm us up when we’re feeling chilly. Time spent in the sun also causes our bodies to produce vitamin D, which is important for proper bone development. Your body produces vitamin D through direct exposure to sunlight though it is also found in certain types of food. It only takes about fifteen minutes of sun exposure each day to ensure you’re producing the right amount for your body. Getting the proper amount of vitamin D can boost your immune system and protect from certain bone disorders.


Being in the sun is a wonderful thing, but the problem comes when you’re exposed to harmful Ultraviolet Rays (UV) that penetrate the skin and cause a hiccup in your skin’s DNA processing. UV light is composed of both visible and invisible rays. These waves can be long (harmless) or short (harmful). The long UV rays that reach us are called UVA and UVB light. When you get a sunburn, you’ve been exposed to UVB rays that can damage the skin cell causing wrinkles and prematurely aged skin. Though no one wants to look aged and weathered, there’s an even scarier fact that abounds about prolonged damage from sun exposure. Both UVA and UVB rays are both being studied as carcinogens. According to a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences entitled “UV Radiation and the Skin, “radiation (UV) is classified as a “complete carcinogen” because it is both a mutagen and a non-specific damaging agent and has properties of both a tumor initiator and a tumor promoter.” The study goes on to say that “exposure to UV carries profound health risks, including atrophy, pigmentary changes, wrinkling and malignancy” and that “UV is epidemiologically and molecularly linked to the three most common types of skin cancer—basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma, all of which affect over one million Americans each year.” If that’s not reason enough to want to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays, there’s more. Depending on the level of melanin in your skin and other factors like genetic history and environmental factors, time spent with the short UVB rays can increase your risk of developing one of those three cancers, including melanoma (a rare form of skin cancer that’s on the rise in recent years).


So what can you do to ensure you’re safe while playing in the sun? Reducing your sun exposure is the best way to reduce your risk of developing sun damage. Try to cover your skin with hats, glasses and longer UV protected clothing. Avoid peak hours of the sun usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun is highest in the sky. Make sure to take extra precautions with young children and babies who have extremely sensitive skin that can burn easily.  They should also be clothed in protective clothing and kept in the shade as much as possible. Though you should ask your doctor if using sunscreen on a baby that is younger than 6 months, sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect children and adults from harmful UV rays.


Sunscreen is usually found as a cream, lotion or gel that’s applied to the skin and used to block out UV rays that can harm your skin and cause premature aging and cancer. You’ll want to apply a thick layer and have someone help apply it to spots you can’t reach, like your back or the back of your neck. The chemicals in the sunscreen will work to absorb or deflect the rays keeping your skin safe from the rays. Each sunscreen comes with a “Sun Protection Factor” rating known as SPF. Sunscreens come with an SPF of 1an, 30 or 50, the number stands for that many times the normal amount it will take to get a sunburn. You should always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Make to check the SPF level of makeup products containing SPF and if they don’t have enough, be sure to use with another form of sun protection. There are two different types of sunscreen, physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. Here’s the difference.


With this type of sunscreen, you’re able to block both UVA and UVB rays. You apply directly to the skin and it begins to work as soon as it’s applied. Also known as blockers, this type of sunscreen works by deflecting the light away from your body. Physical sunscreen also contains an active mineral ingredient like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. You’ll know it’s a physical sunscreen by that tell-tale white look.


Usually lighter than the pasty white stuff you’re thinking of, these types of sunscreen are made with organic compounds like Octylcrylene, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate and Oxybenzone. The latter under current safety studies to uncover the role it plays for those with allergic reactions to chemical sunscreens. These sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays and works better than physical sunscreens at blocking UVA and UVB rays. They also go on easier in a clear smooth application. Still, most chemical sunscreens have not been approved by the FDA though they are approved in parts of Europe and Asia.

To ensure that your sunscreen works effectively, make sure to apply at least 30 minutes before you begin playing in the sun. Don’t forget to reapply! Reapply every hour or two of play and every time you get out of the water or after sweating or drying off with a towel. And always check the expiration date. It’s easy to store sunscreen for years without realizing it. An expired sunscreen could wreak havoc on your beach day! Make sure to give your skin the love and attention it needs and that starts with finding a good sunscreen to protect you daily. Seriously—Don’t leave home without it!  


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Derm Young